China Blows up Churches and Temples in Religious Crackdown
Authorities in eastern China have shut down, and in some cases blown up, 450 Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as Taoist and Buddhist temples, officials said Tuesday.
The campaign launched in mid-November in the easern province of Zhejiang was aimed at wiping out "illegal" religious groups which had not registered with the State Administration for Religious Affairs, they said.
The 239 unregistered religious facilities that were shut down and the 210 churches and temples that were destroyed were all located in the Ouhai district of Wenzhou city.
A spokesman for the Wenzhou foreign affairs office told AFP the churches, temples and religious halls were shut down to protect the public.
"In order to maintain social stability, the local government demolished underground churches and temples and other illegal places. These organizations were operating under the cloak of religion. They hoodwinked people, interfered in normal religious activities," he said.
A spokesman from the Beijing-based Administration for Religious Affairs said the campaign was not a national one, and as far as he knew, it was only happening in Ouhai.
China's communist government only allows organized religion to function under the control of the state and it frequently launches crackdowns against the "underground" churches which do not recognize the state's authority.
Of the estimated 14 million Catholics in China, only about four million belong to the official Chinese Catholic Church while the other 10 million recognize the authority of the pope.
Frank Lu, director of the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, said he believed the central government had ordered local governments to dissolve unregistered religious groups for fear they would grow into defiant organizations such as the outlawed Falungong spiritual group.
Falungong members have continued to carry out large protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing more than a year after the group was banned as an evil cult and its leaders were jailed for up to 18 years.
Wenzhou has a large Catholic community, which grew from the pre-communist days when foreign missionaries traveled from the main port city of Shanghai down the east coast to Wenzhou to convert the Chinese.
In the past few years, Ouhai has seen a large increase in illegal religious facilities, the Zhejiang Daily said in a report -- BEIJING (AFP)
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