Hi-tech surveillance devices including face and fingerprint scanning equipment are now being installed in churches throughout China. A report from Bitter Winter, a publication that explores human rights and religious freedom in China, says a facial recognition system that was placed in a government-controlled Three-Self Church in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is now being introduced elsewhere in China. “Muyang Church in Hubei, had two biometric devices set up on its second floor. Since then, congregation members have to stand in line to have their faces and fingerprints scanned before being allowed to enter the church,” the publication reported.
“At the same time, in the city’s state-run Tian’en Church, facial recognition equipment was also installed to check the believers who attend gatherings.” A Christian said several weeks ago that local authorities required every Three-Self Church venue in Huangshi city to take the fingerprints of fellow believers and put on file their personal and family information. The churchgoer was disturbed by the order since it requires not only that church members be under constant tracking and surveillance but their families and relatives are implicated by association. Authorities said all congregants must have their fingerprints scanned to attend Sunday services,” Bitter Winter noted.
“Just like employees punch in at work,” the person in charge of one church venue explained to a churchgoer. “In this way, the church can know who attends the services and who doesn’t.” Chinese Christians believe this is yet another example of the ever-increasing amassing of power by the government. State surveillance of churches is not new in China. What is called the Sharp Eyes Project has long had a presence in state-run churches, with cameras placed even in washrooms of certain places of worship to ensure “comprehensive monitoring.” The surveillance program is intended to cover all regions, sharing across all networks, available at all times, and controlled at all points.
Earlier this year, reports emerged that state-run churches in Qingdao city were ordered to stop singing worship or spiritual songs and were instead ordered to sing from a book of hymns approved by the state. The new approved songs only featured themes about loving the nation of China, celebrating birthdays and funerals, and respecting parents and the elderly. “The hymns published by the government only promote political, secularized content, one director of a state-approved church told Bitter Winter in June, referencing the chorus of one of the hymns as an example: “China is beautiful; China is great; the sons and daughters of China love China. … Bless China, O Lord.”
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