BEIJING – Chinese authorities removed a cross from a church Friday after Christian protesters ended a month-long sit-in on the building’s roof in a bid to protect the cross from what they said was its unfair removal, witnesses said.
Communist China officially guarantees freedom of religion though authorities are sometimes suspicious of religious groups.
Christians in the eastern province of Zhejiang, which has a growing Christian population, say authorities have been taking down crosses on churches since last year, creating tension between officials and congregations.
Video footage by Zhang Zhaoxia, a member of the congregation at Ya Village Church in Huzhou city, showed authorities using a crane to remove the cross from the church’s steeple. Reuters could not verify the footage.
Up to 22 members of the church staged a roof-top protest for a month to guard the cross but government officials told their relatives on Thursday the occupation had to end that day.
Protesters said relatives dragged them away.
Protester Pan Yingjue said officials had told church workers the cross would not be removed, but to her dismay, she saw it being taken down on Friday.
“If the premises of your home are casually dismantled and moved, how would you feel?” said a weeping Pan. “The cross was up there all this while and did not affect them at all. Why did they have to touch it?”
Congregation members said they were not told why the cross was taken down.
A Huzhou government official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the foreign media, said the cross was being moved to a wall of the church.
“The police did not dismantle the cross but are moving it from the roof to the exterior wall,” the official said.
He declined to answer other questions, saying: “The religious issue in China is a highly political one.”
The state-run Global Times newspaper said in July authorities in Zhejiang had denied demolishing crosses, but had said some crosses had been “relocated” out of safety concerns.
The newspaper said on Wednesday crosses on churches in Zhejiang violated building regulations.
Another protester, Gu Yajian, said authorities should be chasing criminals, not taking down crosses.
“The government had no right to do this today. They have broken our hearts,” said Gu.
“Shouldn’t they be catching the bad guys and getting rid of corrupt officials? Why come to our church?”
Rights activists have reported an sharp increase in cross removals in Zhejiang in recent weeks.
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