Chinese Christians fear new crackdown after church demolished

The Sanjiang Christian Church in Wenzhou

A local Chinese government's demolition of the largest Christian church in the coastal city of Wenzhou late April is fueling fears the central government might be on the verge of further suppressing Christianity in China.

The Sanjiang Christian Church was razed to the ground a few weeks ago after Chinese authorities said the church was an illegal structure four times the permitted structure size.

In September 2013, however, the church was lauded by the local government as a model engineering project.

Wenzhou is also known as the "Jerusalem of the East" because 15 percent of its population is Christian, the largest in any Chinese city.

The Sanjiang Church with its imposing spires took 12 years to build and cost close to US$5 million. It is located in Yongjia County near Wenzhou in Zhejiang province.

Christian groups are concerned the demolition signals an official campaign against religious organizations in China.

China Aid, a US-based Christian rights group, said Christians are worried that the church's demolition could be a sign the central government in Beijing is tightening its grip over the spread of Christianity in China.

The organization claims churches in Wenzhou and Hangzhou are now "facing persecution" as a result of a provincial campaign against religious structures that began after Zhejiang Party Secretary Xia Baolong visited churches across the province and saw them as "too conspicuous."

The propaganda department of Yongjia County, where Sanjiang Church was located, said the church was destroyed as it was "illegal."

A spokesman pointed out that the building area of the church should be within 1,881 square meters. The government claimed the church was built on 7,928 square meters illegally.

The church was asked to "self-rectify" by April 22, but failed to do so since workers tore down only some 500 square meters. The church was then reduced to rubble by government demolition crews.

The provincial government said it is investigating five local government officials in relation to the illegal construction of the church. One official was arrested while another is in custody.

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