Police in Shenzhen city in southeastern China quickly tracked down a pastor and members of a house church after seeing videos posted on WeChat of their ocean baptisms, according to a report.
Six members of Shenzhen Trinity Gospel Harvest Church and its Pastor Mao Zhibin drove two hours to a coastal city for the Easter baptisms held on April 16. According to China Aid, the baptisms were discretely planned and held without incident.
However, a person known to the church posted photos and videos of the baptisms on WeChat. Soon thereafter, an official called Mao, who was eating lunch with those who had been baptized and asked him to confirm his identity due to a COVID-19-related measure.
Minutes later, several police officers and the local deputy mayor arrived at the location where they were all having lunch. The official and police waited for the Christians to finish their lunch and then checked their identity cards and scanned their faces.
One of the officers had the baptism videos on his phone, the pastor said. Several more photos of the pastor appeared on the phone after they scanned his face.
“The technology used by the government surpasses traditional authoritarian reign and should be called super authoritarianism,” Pastor Mao was quoted as saying, as per the translation provided by the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern. “However, I also believe that God still reigns over all. We just need to trust in Him, walk humbly with God.”
The pastor added that it's worse than George Orwell's 1984, with the officials monitoring WeChat and hundreds of millions of surveillance cameras in the country monitoring the movements of every person in China.
He added, "big data artificial intelligence algorithms can be called The Matrix 1.0, which is a hyper-totalitarianism far exceeding the traditional totalitarian rule technology," according to China Aid.
Mao and his church have spoken out in the past for religious freedom and in support of Pastor Wang Yi, the founding pastor of one of China’s most persecuted house churches, Early Rain Covenant Church.
Some activists also attend Shenzhen Trinity Gospel Harvest Church, which could be the reason why the communist government has targeted the house church.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, estimates that there are about 97 million Christians in China. A large percentage of these Christians worship in what China’s communist government considers to be “illegal” and unregistered underground house churches.
The group has also warned that many unregistered churches have been “forced to split up into small groups and gather in different locations, keeping a low profile so as not to be detected by the sub-district officer or neighborhood committee.”
As Beijing hosted the Winter Olympics earlier this year, many expressed outrage about China’s treatment of religious minority communities. While China was accused of genocide for its detainment of Uyghur and other ethnic Muslims in western China, human rights activists had voiced concern for years about the Chinese government’s longtime crackdown on unregistered churches and house church movements.
“Since the Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs took effect in February 2018, the Chinese government has added more laws seeking to curb religious activities that are not state-sanctioned," said Gina Goh, ICC's regional manager for Southwest Asia, said in an earlier statement.
Goh added: “Beijing is paranoid about Chinese Christians’ interaction with Christians overseas. As a result, they are penalizing Christians to deter them from ‘receiving foreign influence.’ It is a shame that the Chinese government constantly manipulates laws to violate the religious freedom of its citizens.”