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Wenzhou govt defends church demolition

2014-04-29 10:20 Global Times Web Editor: Li Yan

A government official from Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang province, defended the decision to demolish an oversized Protestant church Monday, weeks after hundreds of worshippers rallied in demonstrations to save it.

Sanjiang Church in Yongjia county of Wenzhou was an illegal construction, and there was no planning approval before the land was rezoned from agricultural to urban, a media officer surnamed Shan from Yongjia government told the Global Times Monday.

Hundreds of worshippers had rallied at the church on several occasions in past weeks in a bid to save it from demolition. They thought they had reached a deal with the local government to save the church in return for demolishing the top two floors of an administrative building.

"There was a deal, which was reasonable but unfortunately illegal," said Shan. The entire complex was demolished to show they were treating everyone equally, as all illegal constructions should be demolished or rebuilt, he said.

The deal was signed on April 7 and the church was given two weeks to demolish the outer buildings and take down the church cross, which exceeded the limit on building height. But they did not do that within the agreed time, according to a government press release.

Yongjia government said in early April that the church could be up to 1,881 square meters, but the one built was over 7,000 square meters.

Members of the congregation said they were saddened to see their church being torn down on Monday morning, after some worshippers left the church late Sunday. Dozens of onlookers were kept some 1,000 meters away from the cordoned-off area, several witnesses said.

Witnesses estimated there were around 300 demolition workers and police officers, including special police armed with shields and batons.

Some worshippers contacted by the Global Times are concerned that the demolition was aimed at discouraging Christianity.

Shan denied that was the case.

"Nearly 4 million square meters of illegal constructions have been torn down in Yongjia county, including factories and Buddhist temples. There are many Christians and we give a lot of respect to freedom of religion," Shan said.

Yang Fenggang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in Indiana, said that the demolition may drive some worshippers away from approved churches to illegal "house" churches.

Unlike many other places in China where Christianity is marginalized, in Wenzhou it is quite influential. With a population of around 8 million, Wenzhou has roughly 1 million Christians, according to news portal mzb.com.cn.

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