Official says church crosses merely relocated, denies restricting freedom of worship

By Li Ruohan and Jiang Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-29 0:38:01

Official upholds freedom of worship as accusations rise

Authorities in Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province have denied demolishing the crosses on churches, saying they have merely "relocated" the crosses out of safety concerns.

An anonymous official from Wenzhou's ethnic and religious affairs bureau told the Global Times that the authorities are "relocating" the cross from the top of the church to its façade and indoors for the sake of safety and beauty.

"Generally speaking, the church staff and people [religious faithful] are very supportive," said the official. "We talked with some people who were not cooperating with the removal in a gentle way."

Priests in churches in Rui'an, another city in Zhejiang, reached by the Global Times said that the local government had called them to remove the church crosses, but they said they would not take the crosses down.

An official from the ethnic and religious affairs bureau in Rui'an told the Global Times that the removal is part of the "three revise and one demolition" campaign to demolish and renovate dangerous buildings.

The "three revise and one demolition" is a three-year campaign aimed at hastening urbanization and "building a more beautiful Zhejiang," according to an official document issued by the provincial government in Zhejiang in 2013.

The document orders local governments to "revise" old neighborhoods, old industrial sites and urban villages and demolish illegal structures by 2015.

During the campaign, the demolition of the Protestant Sanjiang Church in Yongjia county, Wenzhou in April 2014 had sparked protests. Since then, crosses on Protestant and Catholic churches have reportedly been removed in other cities in Zhejiang.

Pictures of people making crosses have gone viral which some netizens say was a protest. "What the government did has violated freedom of religion," said a believer.

An official of the Yongjia government had told the Global Times that other religious places of worship, including Buddhist temples, have also been affected by the campaign and that authorities respect freedom of religion.

The approach should be carried out through the legal process rather than through administrative orders, said legal and religious experts at a symposium on religion and the rule of law in Beijing.  They also called for a specific law on religious affairs to outline the requirements on religious activities and places of worship.

An expert told the symposium that court summons could be sent to churches to demand a building renovation and a proper way to enforce the law can avoid future conflicts.

Zhejiang is drafting a regulation on construction standards on places of worship, which would determine the size of crosses and where crosses for both Catholic and Protestant churches should be located.

Newspaper headline: Church crosses merely ‘relocated’: Wenzhou official

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