Demolition of churches persists in China; protestors say they face coercion

(Photo: Courtesy Lecheng neighborhood church)A church in Lecheng, Yueqing, Wenzhou was ordered to demolish parts of their building on April 9, 2014.

Despite a canceled protest to oppose an ongoing demolition campaign that targets Christian churches and crosses in China's Zhejiang province, church leaders have vowed to protect the structures.

Some have said that the government action was tantamount to religious persecution, reported.

The protest had been set for June 23 but was called off at the last minute.

It was abandoned after the police allegedly warned several pastors against joining the mass action outside Pingyang county's government offices in Wenzhou, a city in the southeast of Zhejiang province.

The city has one of mainland China's highest concentrations of Christians.

Leaders from 135 churches in Pingyang county, all members of the State authorized Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant churches and the China Christian Council, initially agreed to join the protest, reported AsiaNews.

"I received a call from a senior officer from Pingyang county police station to ask whether I was the main organizer of tomorrow's silent protest, which they said would put everyone in trouble because it's illegal," the pastor, who declined to be named, told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper.

The call pressed other church leaders to retreat from the protest, added the pastor.

So far since January this year, some 360 crosses and one church have been demolished in the eastern coastal province of China under the government's "Three Rectifications and One Demolition" campaign.

More than 60 churches in Wenzhou have received demolition notices.

"The cross is sacred and inviolable for all Christians. It's definitely a humiliation for us to take down crosses from our churches," said another pastor. "We decided on a silent protest because we have no other way to go."

They called the campaign as a form of religious persecution but local government officials defended it, saying that it only targeted structures that breach building codes.

Earlier, church leaders issued a public letter online, articulating their concerns on the mounting aggressive campaign to tear down their worship sites.

"[The demolition] has caused deep pain among nearly a hundred thousand believers and swirling rumors in our society. It has led to...unrest," AsiaNews quoted the letter as saying.

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