Chinese Christians in a city known as the nation’s “Jerusalem” are clashing with the local government after a controversial directive to install surveillance cameras in churches.
Authorities have begun implementing the directive for the city of Wenzhou, in Zhejiang province, which was issued late last year. As a result, clergy in the city, which has an estimated 1 million Christians, protested, according to a report from the South China Morning Post.
“Government officials came to the churches and put up cameras by force. Some pastors and worshippers who didn’t agree to the move were dragged away,” an unidentified Christian in Wenzhou said to the paper, without specifying when the conflict occurred. “Some people needed to be treated in hospital after fighting the officials.”
China Aid, a U.S.-based religious rights group, said churches were told to install cameras at gates, raised platforms, offering boxes and other places, despite strong opposition from churchgoers who claimed the surveillance infringed their privacy.
One churchgoer said officials had installed the cameras one by one, but they had yet to be set up in his place of worship.
“I don’t support the government’s decision and I hope they will not put monitoring equipment inside our church,” the churchgoer said.
“We Christians do good deeds and we don’t do anything to endanger the public. I don’t understand why the government wants to monitor us. The government’s pressure on us will not deter us from our beliefs and will not affect the proliferation of our religion. The tougher the persecution, the more people will be encouraged to follow the religion.”
The new law comes two years after authorities in China ordered churches in the Zhejiang Province to remove neon crosses from churches and other buildings.
The controversial campaign made international headlines at the time and drew sharp criticism from religious rights organizations around the world. Nearly 360 crosses were removed and even one church was demolished, according to China Aid.
The city of Wenzhou, a manufacturing hub of 8 million people, has the highest concentration of Christians in mainland China. Crosses from more than 2,000 churches dotted the city’s skyline before a 2014 campaign to bring them down.
Wenzhou’s surveillance camera drive comes amid tighter controls on religious activities across the country.