China’s Orwellian-like network of surveillance cameras now includes churches.
Most churches within the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement in one major Chinese city, Huai’an, have government-mandated surveillance cameras that allow the communist government to monitor the congregation’s every move, Bitter Winter reported .
For example, Bitter Winter visited a Three-Self congregation that had 28 high-definition surveillance cameras, including six above the podium and four at the entrance.
Huaiyin district of Huai’an city, 155 of the 170 Three-Self churches have government-mandated cameras that are connected to a network allowing the government to watch Christians, Bitter Winter reported. Huai’an’s population is 4.7 million.
“The Religious Affairs Bureau pressured us into installing them,” a member of the church told Bitter Winter. “Each surveillance camera is connected to the public security organs, as required by the Religious Affairs Bureau. They can see every move in the church. If we didn’t follow their demands, the church would have to be shut down.”
The cameras are part of a massive network of cameras across China that allow the government to monitor citizens. There are an estimated 176 million surveillance cameras across China, The Atlantic reported . That number could reach 450 million by 2020.
China’s persecution of illegal house churches is well-documented. But its surveillance of Three-Self churches – which are legal but face severe restrictions – has not received as much attention.
In Dingji Town Three-Self Church in Huai’an, the government installed surveillance cameras in the prayer room, in the lobby, and in the courtyard.
“House church gatherings are being persecuted. I never thought that there would be no freedom at Three-Self churches, either,” a Three-Self church member said.
The footage is being closely monitored.
“Every time we hold a gathering, the local United Front Work Department, the Public Security Bureau, and the town government send specially-assigned personnel to come and supervise the church,” said the Christian that attends the church with 28 cameras.
“These people take turns on duty, sitting in front of the computer and observing each move of every person in the church. Now, when believers come to attend gatherings, they don’t dare to speak casually.”