A group of Chinese Christians protecting a church cross from demolition has said that they are ready to die for the cause, even as they are beaten severely by police officers seeking to break their month-long vigil.
"We will continue to guard our church cross to the end," a local worker of Pingyang County said, according to International Christian Concern. "We divide people into two groups and take turns to guard the church through the night."
Government officials have been trying to forcibly remove the church cross of ShuiTou Salvation Church in Pingyang, Wenzhou City for over a month now, though Christians have been protecting it by holding overnight vigils.
ICC notes that police have been beating the worshipers with iron batons, however, and have severely injured at least four. In some days close to 1,000 Christians have formed a human blockade around the church, and have continued protecting the cross despite police brutality.
Three local Christians defending the cross, Zhan Yingsheng, Zhang Zhi, and Ye Wanjing, said in a letter last week that they are willing to die for their faith if necessary – explaining that it is not the physical cross, but the Christian faith that it symbolizes that they are fighting for.
Ye Wanjing wrote: "I am not going to die for the physical cross on my church and, to be honest, I rarely paid attention to the physical cross on the top of the building. However, faced with injustice, my conscious of being a Christian pressured me to do my responsibility. I hope to learn more about Jesus Christ's calling of 'die to myself.'"
In June, a video spread on social media showed part of the violence, with police forces directly clashing with a wall of Christians protecting the cross.
"Zhejiang provincial authorities have carefully planned and carried out their systematic attack against Christianity and churches. We call on the government of China in the strongest possible terms to immediately stop the anti-church campaign that hurts its own people's heart. The world needs a peaceful China that respects human dignity and freedom of religions," said ICC's Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, Sooyoung Kim.
The watchdog group has said that the Chinese government has launched an offensive against churches, which it sees as competition for its influence over the people. At least 360 other churches have been completely or partially demolished in Zhejiang Province, with the government claiming that it is "removing or modifying illegal constructions."
A prominent church leader from central China was sentenced to 12 years in prison earlier in July, with watchdog groups claiming it as another incident where government hostility toward Christianity has shown.
After Zhang Shaojie, who led the Nanle County Christian Church in Henan province, was sentenced for gathering crowds and "disturbing public order," China Aid's Bob Fu wrote in a statement:
"This case shows the Chinese government continues to cover up religious persecution with fabricated criminal charges against an innocent church leader."
Fu has also called the demolition of Christian churches a "well-orchestrated campaign in order to contain the rapid growth of Christianity."