Dozens of Christians in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province stood in front of their local church to prevent authorities from removing a cross from the structure on Monday.
Protesters and officials in Leqing, Wenzhou were in a standstill as of 2pm, according to sources who asked not to be named out of fear for reprisals.
Pictures shared by sources showed protesters holding red crosses and banners calling on local officials to stop the “illegal demolition” of church crosses.
Earlier media reports said the Zhejiang government ordered a suspension of the year-long exterior church crosses “removal campaign” in the run-up to a high-profile military parade in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. But Zhejiang Christians denied the rumour, saying cross demolitions are ongoing.
A priest at a church in Sanjie, Shengzhou, who asked to stay anonymous, said officials took away a cross on top of their local church on Monday. Officials came with a crane at 4am, the priest said. Another church in Xingqiao, Yuhang was also targeted.
He Guanghu, a professor of religious studies at the People’s University of China, called on the Zhejiang government to stop church cross demolitions. Officials used threats and violence to suppress Christians’ peaceful boycott, causing “extremely bad influence” home and abroad, Professor He said in an article shared on social media service Weibo.
The article was read over 38,000 times in seven hours. It has since been blocked by WeChat, another social media platform.
Authorities in Zhejiang launched the church cross removal campaign about a year and a half ago. Over 1,200 church crosses have been taken down so far. Violence and bloodshed has been reported in some cases.
Authorities claim church cross demolitions are part of a campaign to remove “illegal structures” of all kinds in order to eliminate fire and safety hazards.
Zhejiang is a traditional Christian stronghold in China with churches and church premises dating back to 1840s.