Authorities in a northern Chinese city have encouraged local citizens to inform on any religious activities amid a COVID-19 lockdown, according to a leaked official document.
The document encourages citizens of Xingtai city in China’s Hebei province to report on any religious activities while adding information supplied would receive a monetary reward, reported International Christian Concern (ICC).
ICC said that details came from a document shared by Reverend Francis Liu from the US-based Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness.
The document shows how the authorities have given a directive to ban both “religious venues” and “religious gatherings” for disease prevention.
Hebei — which has a large number of Catholics — has recently been hit by an outbreak with the province’s capital city of Shijiazhuang going into lockdown mid-last week.
The document added that United Front Department of Xingtai city, together with local the Ethnic & Religious Affairs Bureau, decided to implement a tip-off system with rewards beginning Jan. 9.
The notice encourages citizens to report any venue that is operating and religious activities — especially those held at Buddhist halls, gathering spots, and within homes. Once it is verified, the informant can receive a reward of RMB 500 (US $77) or more.
Similar measures have been used to encourage informers during the current lockdowns with one notice sent out by officials in another Hebei city stating they would offer the same amount for reports of anyone refusing a COVID-19 test.
ICC said this is not the first time Xingtai city is soliciting its residents’ help to clamp down on “illegal religious activities.” In July 2019, Xingtai authorities asked people to report religious buildings and activities not approved by the state. Although in its notice it did not specify which religion, house churches fell into this category and were targeted by the government.
Mainland China saw its biggest daily increase in COVID-19 cases on Jan. 10 in more than five months, the country’s national health authority said, as new infections in Hebei province surrounding Beijing continued to rise.
The South China Morning Post reported that Beijing authorities shut down all 155 official religious venues there after “a number of” coronavirus patients from Hebei reportedly attended religious gatherings
The surge comes as the World Health Organization’s team of investigators probing the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic are set to arrive in China on Jan. 14.
China has been accused of initially covering up the outbreak that first emerged in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, which critics say delayed China’s initial response and allowed COVID-19 to spread globally. Today many critics remain skeptical of COVID case and death figures stated by Chinese officials.