The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. Activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office.
Last summer in Zhejiang Province, nearly 1,000 Christians made headlines when they rallied outside of a church to stop its demolition by local authorities. People were beaten by security forces and dozens were injured. Observers say by the end of the year, dozens of churches and over 400 crosses had been demolished in the province.
At a recent forum at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, ChinaAid President Bob Fu said 2014 was a rough year for Christians in China.
“We believe 2014 was the darkest year ever since the Chinese Cultural Revolution, in which the Chinese Communist government has severely suppressed religious groups even for the first time heavily depressed its own state-sanctioned … churches,” he said.
Fu says the demolition of churches and acts of religious persecution also spread to dozens of other provinces and alleges the crackdowns could have only happened if they had been coordinated with national Communist Party officials, who have tightened religious controls since Xi Jinping came to office.
Last year, Wang Zuoan, China's State Council Secretary of Religious Affairs, said religion should “explore the core values of socialism within the context of Christianity.”
Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch says via Skype his statement raises concerns.
“I think it is another indication of just how deeply the Chinese government misinterprets the freedom of religion and the freedom of belief," she said.
Richardson adds that since the Communist Party claims to be atheist, it should not control the public’s beliefs by using the party’s interpretation of religion.
China's government has long said all of its citizens are free to practice the religion of their choosing.
According to the most recent information from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, about five percent of China’s population, or some 68 million people, considered themselves Christian in 2010. A China Daily report last year said about half a million Chinese get baptized into the Christian faith each year.
Anqi Hu contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.