By BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Chinese security forces violently removed two more church crosses in China's eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, injuring five senior church members, as part of a wider crackdown in the region, rights activists say.
More than 200 church crosses are now known to have been forcibly removed by the provincial government since early April, said advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC), which closely monitored the situation.
ICC's Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, Sooyoung Kim, suggested that the violence was part of a wider crackdown on independent churches.
"For months, Zhejiang provincial authorities have ignored their own people's cry for justice, refusing to provide the legal basis by which it has torn down hundreds of church crosses," the official told BosNewsLife in a statement.
Local Christians said the two church crosses were forcibly removed Wednesday, August 27, from Ruo Heng Church in Wenling City and Cheng Xi Church in Wenzhou City.
CHURCH MEMBERS HOSPITALIZED
In Wenzhou city at least five senior church members were hospitalized after suffering injuries when trying to defend their church's cross against an overwhelming force of over 100 police officers and other security personnel, Christians said.
"Are they really the police paid by citizens' tax money or violent mobs?" a local Christian
reportedly asked over Chinese social media.
In early August, Zhejiang Provincial government's two state-church leaders reportedly
endorsed the cross demolition campaign saying it was aimed at "modifying illegal construction according to law" and that "religious buildings are not exception."
Critics say however that authorities have never provided the legal basis by which the government has torn down hundreds of church crosses.
"Who is illegal? The government's demolition team who beat up people or Christians who are defending their church cross?" wondered a local Christian, whose name was not revealed amid security concerns.
MORE CHRISTIANS INJURED
In late July, seven Christians were reportedly injured when a government demolition team's again tried to forcibly remove the evangelical Jiu En, or 'Salvation' Church's cross. Lawyers have since urged the government to find and punish the assailants, but no detentions were reported Wednesday, August 27.
"We once again call on the Zhejiang Provincial government to end its disgraceful cross demolition campaign and to investigate the brutalization of congregants by police" and other security forces, said ICC's Sooyoung Kim.
"All Chinese Christians hold a human right to exercise their religion publicly, free from abuse and harassment. The baseless demolition of hundreds of church crosses and the brutalization of dozens of peaceably assembled congregants are clear and reprehensible breaches of that right and cannot go unaddressed."
The reported crackdown comes at a time when Christianity is spreading in Communist-led China.
Officials say Christians are free to worship within the state-controlled churches, but many of the country's estimated 130 million believers prefer to gather outside government control in independent congregations and what are known as 'house churches'.