Photo: Church destruction in Zhejiang province in 2006
On December 24, 1999, Chengnan Christian Church of Tinghu District was formally established upon review, approval and registration by Yancheng Municipal People's Government. In order to construct a church building which would accommodate a congregation of 800, the church obtained a loan and the Christians enthusiastically donated personal funds for four years.
On June 12, 2003, the congregation bought four mu (about 0.66 acres) of land for the church building. The construction of the church building started in April 2004, and was completed in February 2005. On March 11, 2005, the church members began Sunday worship and various church activities in the church building. Pastor Ding Jianling said: "The grace of the Lord is overflowing, and the investment of five million yuan on the church all comes from the loving donations from brothers and sisters over the past 10 years or so and is the fruit of hard work. Now, the temple of God is built."
However, beginning in 2006, sources say that real estate developers began to covet the land on which the church was built. The developers established connections in key agencies and departments and planned to build commercial housing units to sell for a large profit.
Because of the pressure to sell the building and property, the church said it was willing to hold negotiations on equal footing to solve the problems. However, real estate developers and the relevant agencies in the government offered to pay only 2,860,000 yuan to settle the matter. They also refused to provide the land to replace the demolished church.
Chengnan Christian Church refused to accept the unfair conditions. Contacts say that the real estate developers collaborated with relevant agencies in the government to harass the church by cutting off the water supply and electricity.
At 9 a.m. on January 16, 2008 government officials and real estate developers called in more than 500 people to lay siege to the church and tried to demolish the building. Since the church had already petitioned, filed a case and reported the incident to the relevant agencies for urgent resolution, and because members of the church came out to protect the building, the church temporarily avoided demolition.
On May 29, 2008 real estate developers and officials once again, attempted to demolish the church, and once again, they failed.
One day in August, a real estate developer desiring to provoke the congregation, beat up one church member so badly that the victim had to be hospitalized. The developer was required to pay for the medical expenses.
Finally, in order to protect themselves from harassment from Yacheng government officials and the real estate developers, the church filed a lawsuit in Tinghu District Court. At 6 p.m. on December 16, 2008, Tinghu District Court ruled in favor of Chengnan Christian Church. After the ruling, the members of the church thought the government agencies and the real estate developers would abide by the law and would leave the church in peace.
However, the following day, December 17, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., more than 50 Christians were in gathered for prayer in the church, when a large number of police officers and unidentified people suddenly broke in. Without showing identification or giving any explanation, the police officers and attackers dragged the Christians outside the church, while hundreds of government officials, police officers, security guards and a large number of unidentified people gathered outside the church.
According to witnesses, the leader of the mob was Cai Zhaoshan, Deputy General Secretary of Yancheng Municipal Government. Wielding tools, the crowd began to demolish the gate of the church, the office and other structures. Some of the mob loaded debris into trucks and hauled it away. When approximately 10 members of the church tried to stop the attackers, they were beaten.
At the time of this report, contacts reported that the church's office, the training center and cafeteria have all been destroyed. The damages are estimated to be more than 3 million yuan. Witnesses report that before officials left the scene, they boasted that they would come again in three days to continue the demolition.
Pastor Ding Jianling of Chengnan Christian Church says he is very sad that the church has been destroyed and that the brothers were beaten. Pastor Ding issued this appeal: "Please pray for us. We hope the authorities will repent for what they have done and may they be forgiven. In broad daylight, they occupied our property by force and broke the law knowingly. The government must give us an explanation for this."
ChinaAid believes this to be a serious incident of religious persecution. This is a significant case exposing the government's persecution against a Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church, despite the fact that TSPM churches are registered and approved by the government. Forcible demolition of legally registered churches appears to be a new development in recent years where corrupt government agencies and real estate developers conspire together for huge financial profits at the expense of disadvantaged social groups and religious freedom.
Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid stated: "The central government has demanded on many occasions, both in China and abroad, that churches register, claiming that once churches are registered, they will receive legal protection by the government. How the government handles the Yancheng incident will be the touchstone to test the validity of their claim, freedom of religion and rule of law in China. ChinaAid will advocate for all Christians in China who are persecuted for their faith."
Contact officials in Yancheng and let them know your concern for this church destruction:
Foreign Affairs Office of Yancheng City, Jiangsu
Director Zhao Ning
Phone: +86- 515-6660825