Chinese authorities blow up Christian church

A villager walks near a Catholic church on the outskirts of Taiyuan North China's Shanxi province

A villager walks near a Catholic church on the outskirts of Taiyuan North China's Shanxi province

A huge church purportedly built with nearly £2 million raised from local worshippers in one of China's poorest regions has been demolished by authorities, the latest flashpoint between religious groups and the officially atheist Communist Party.

The government revised laws regulating religious groups past year for the first time since 2005, increasing control over a places of worship from limiting the construction of statutes outside churches to imposing fines of up to 300,000 yuan (£34,000) for holding "unauthorised religious activities". "Officials often prosecute such choices, however, and some of Golden Lampstand Church's leaders have been imprisoned for one to seven years, simply for serving at their church", ChinaAid said in a statement on Jan.9.

An evangelical megachurch was destroyed by Chinese Communist authorities Tuesday in the country's northern Shanxi province, sparking fears among Christians that the persecution they suffer will soon get worse.

Freedom of religion is technically guaranteed under China's constitution, so local authorities are often seen as using technicalities to attack unregistered churches. This indicates that the order to destroy the church came from China's top officials instead of the less-powerful local authorities. Churches and pastors must be officially sanctioned by the state and are required to abide with the government's rules.

The state-run Global Times newspaper reported the official reason for the demolition was the building did not hold the necessary permits.

ChinaAid President and Founder Bob Fu has urged the government to stop demolishing churches and to compensate the Christians who paid for the building. Explosives were used to bring down the $3 million church, as Chinese Christians that built and attended it wept.

There were "more police than I could count" preventing a crowd on onlookers and worshipers from approaching the site, the pastor said.

He later heard, but did not witness, a loud explosion, the pastor said.

Yang Rongli, who was arrested in 2011 for being a part of the church said she saw the demolition.

The couple had been preaching around Linfen since 1992, establishing congregations in improvised spaces such as factory dormitories and greenhouses.

The Guardian reports that a Catholic church in the neighboring province of Shaanxi was also demolished in a similar fashion last month, which is stoking fears among Christians that the widespread crackdown on churches continues in full force. Several Lampstand leaders subsequently received significant prison sentences, charged with illegally occupying farmland and disturbing traffic order by assembling, according to Associated Press. Officials smashed crosses and confiscated statues, the Eucharistic altar, and other religious artefacts as they demolished the building with heavy machinery, the organisation said. Many members of the church, though, witnessed the demolition from a distance and wept for their church's destruction.

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