Is China Cracking Down on Christianity? Officials Are Burning Bibles and Destroying Crucifixes as Religious Freedoms Sink

A religious monitoring group added to the growing criticism that the Chinese authorities were cracking down on Christianity. The U.S.-based group China Aid said the government in Beijing was guilty of a "blatant violation of freedom of religion and belief," The Associated Press reported.

A Christian pastor in the city of Nanyang told the agency how in September authorities raided his church and burned bibles, crosses and furniture. But this has been disputed by a local official, who told the AP that the authorities respected religious freedoms.

But on Sunday, they shut down one of Beijing's largest unofficial Protestant churches after declaring that gatherings at the Zion Church were illegal. The church's pastor, Ezra Jin Mingri, told Reuters: "I fear that there is no way for us to resolve this issue with the authorities."

China Aid also has video footage of what looked like burning bibles, and forms calling on people to renounce their faith.

There is growing international condemnation of China, which has been accused of the biggest crackdown on religion since freedom of worship was enshrined in the constitution in 1982. Experts and activists said President Xi Jinping was consolidating his power under the suppression of religious freedoms.

Religious believers can only worship in congregations that are registered, although many worship in secret "underground" churches defying the authorities.

Other faiths have been targeted as well. A report by Human Rights Watch released on Sunday has accused the government of detaining and persecuting members of the country's Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.

"The detainees in political education camps are held without any due process rights—neither charged nor put on trial—and have no access to lawyers and family," Human Rights Watch said.

"They are held for having links with foreign countries, particularly those on an official list of '26 sensitive countries,' and for using foreign communication tools such as WhatsApp, as well as for peacefully expressing their identity and religion, none of which constitute crimes," its report said.

A U.N. rights panel said it has credible reports that up to 1 million Uighurs may be held in extra-legal detention.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Geng Shuang said Human Rights Watch was "biased on China," and would not comment on the report's claims, CNN reported.

He said that measures in Xinjiang aimed to "promote stability, development, unity and livelihoods," and at ending "ethnic separatism and violent terrorist criminal activities."