Chinese Christians controlled by high-tech surveillance

In China, the Communist Party’s high-tech means to control Chinese Christians’ religious observance include facial recognition surveillance and a smartphone app that ranks citizens’ party loyalty.

Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang region use high-tech surveillance with facial recognition and an app tracking its user’s location to monitor the Uyghur ethnoreligious minority intensely.

Between 800,000 to 2 million Uyghur Muslims have been detained and sent to “re-education camps,” where they have been subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

The high-tech surveillance model is one the Chinese could apply to other parts of the country in the future.

Christian churches throughout China have been equipped with 24-hour CCTV surveillance. Beijing’s largest Protestant church was forced to close last September after its pastor refused a government order to allow face-recognition cameras to be installed on his pulpit.

On a local level, government officials are punished if their superiors find evidence of unauthorized religious expression in the areas under their control via a “job responsibility contract” system, China expert Steven Mosher says.

“What that contract says is that you must enforce the new restrictions on religious behaviour. You can’t allow children under the age of 18 to attend religious services.

“You can’t allow any unauthorised religious gathering to take place. If it does, you find the people present and you can arrest the leaders.”

Changes in 2018 within Chinese governance shifted direct control of all religious affairs in China to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.

This department’s role is to ensure that groups outside the Chinese Communist Party – ethnic minorities like Tibetan Buddhists, Xinjiang Muslims, Hong Kong democracy activists and the Catholic Patriotic Association – are following the party line.

Chinese President Xi Jinping says the United Front Work Department is one of his “magic weapons,” which he uses to co-opt and control.

“Local officials have been given the green light to intensely persecute the local church and the Patriotic church is not going to be exempt,” Mosher says.

“We now know that Patriotic churches are being destroyed, not just underground churches.”

In September 2018, the Vatican signed a provisional agreement with the Chinese government about the process of appointing bishops in China.

The aim was to unite China’s estimated 12 million Catholics who worship in both underground and registered churches.

The terms of this Sino-Vatican agreement have not been made public, something that Mosher says has been used against Catholics living in China.

“The problem with any secret agreement is that either side can misrepresent it at no cost because there is nothing to compare their statements with,” he says.


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