A video obtained by watchdog group International Christian Concern shows dozens of Chinese Christians in Wenzhou City pushing back against police forces and trying to save a church cross. The Christians also staged a 24-hour vigil in defiance of government orders to demolish the cross.
This is the first time the government retreated after a standoff," a local pastor told ICC. "The government broke into the church without showing any legal documents or notice, just like [a] robber. They stopped Christians from entering the church for the morning service at 8:00 a.m."
The incident reportedly occurred on Wednesday, after hundreds of government workers broke into BaiXiang GuanTou Church, looking to remove the cross from the building's roof. For three-and-a-half hours, church members stood their ground and refused to allow the demolition team inside. The workers retreated, but local sources say that they intend to come back. Close to 80 Christians camped out throughout the night keeping watch and protecting the church.
The video, made available through ICC's Facebook page, shows people blocking the way of police, who are trying to force a large yellow crane through the crowd. The Christians are heard chanting "stop demolishing the cross!" At one point, police begin beating the crowd with batons.
Several Christians managed to break through the barricades, running into the church building and climbing on top of the roof, trying to protect the cross.
ICC's local contact said that despite the violence, believes are "firm and courageous" in their stance because they know that the cross is not against construction law and that the government is abusing its power and bullying the people.
"Today we received clear evidence that local and provincial authorities in Zhejiang Province continue to wage an all-out war against Christians and Christian places of worship. More than 100 churches have been demolished or targeted in the past two months," said ICC Regional Manager for Southeast Asia Sooyoung Kim. "We call on President Xi Jinping directly to step in and put an immediate end to what is a clear violation of China's constitutional commitment to religious freedom."
The church belongs to the Youngjia County parish. Sanjiang Christian Church, also part of that county, was forcibly demolished on April 28 despite major protests. The incident drew international attention.
China Aid Association, a religious rights group in the U.S., argued that the demolition is evidence that the Chinese government is trying to stop the rapid growth of Christianity.
"I suspect it is a well-orchestrated campaign in order to contain the rapid growth of Christianity," Bob Fu of the China Aid Association said at the time.
"The deliberate wounds will take years to heal and the remaining little trust between the Chinese government and Chinese religious communities is gone."
Thousands of Christians had tried to protect the church, and formed a human wall outside the building in April, but government officials insisted that the church violated building codes and used illegal structures. The Protestant church had cost an estimated $4.6 million to build over six years.