Chinese authorities in the city of Wenzhou recently removed all statues representing the Passion of Jesus from a hilltop Catholic site in the city, saying that the statues violated construction regulations.
The statues, located on Longgang Hill in what is considered to be China's Jerusalem, were either demolished or covered with brick. The statues included images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and Saint Joseph, and each weighed about five tons.
According to UCA News, a Catholic news agency in China, workers arrived earlier this week to demolish the religious statues. Some of the statues were too heavy to lift, forcing workers to cover them with brick or use cranes to remove them from Longgang Hill. One observer of the demolition told UCA News that about 100 Catholics showed up to the site to witness the destruction, with some praying and others singing hymns.
Chinese authorities said they removed the Christian statues from Longgang Hill because they violated zoning rules and constituted illegal construction. One local Catholic, who provided only the name Joseph, told UCA News that authorities should allow the town to appeal the issue through legal means.
"Even if the authorities determined that erecting religious articles on the site is against the law, they should allow us to appeal through legal means. This could help build the rule of law in society and stop corruption."
Shortly after authorities destroyed the statues, they moved on to a large Protestant church, also located in Wenzhou. Authorities claimed that the Sanjiang church also violated construction codes, arguing that it was four times larger than the original blueprint suggested. Photos uploaded to social media and sent to media outlets show large bulldozers ripping down parts of the church, which took 12 years and $4.7 million to build.
Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based group China Aid, told The Telegraph that he finds the recent demolishing of Sanjiang church to be evidence of the government's disregard for religious freedom.
"This government-orchestrated barbaric forced demolition represents a serious escalation against religious freedom in Zhejiang. The Chinese regime chooses to disregard its own laws and the will of its best citizens."
Chinese authorities deny that their recent demolition projects are an attack on Christianity in Wenzhou. Jin Leibo, a spokesperson from the propaganda department of Yongjia County, told CNN that the church was destroyed simply because it was "illegal."
"The building area should be within 1,881 square meters, but they built 7,928 square meters illegally," Jin said. She went on to say that the church was asked to "self-rectify" the church by April 22, but it failed to do so in time.