Chinese authorities have reportedly ordered the closure of churches in the eastern city hosting the G20 summit later this year to “create a safe environment” for world leaders when they meet.
Heads of state will fly into Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, in early September for the two-day meeting hosted by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
In an effort to reduce congestion, local officials have declared a week-long public holiday to coincide with the G20 summit and are reportedly trying to convince thousands of residents to leave town.
Now reports have emerged that authorities are also banning religious worship during the annual summit.
The Global Times, a Communist party-run tabloid, said Xiaoshan, a district in south-east Hangzhou where the G20 meeting will be held, had outlawed large-scale religious activities until four days after the event. It said the move was an attempt “to create a safe environment for the meeting”.
One Hangzhou pastor told the newspaper authorities had shut down a number of underground “house churches” in the city.
Another report, by the US-backed news service Radio Free Asia, said the city’s unofficial churches had been ordered to stop gathering.
“They have been forcing house churches not to meet ahead of the G20 summit,” said Zhang Mingxuan, the outspoken president of China’s House Church Alliance.
Li Guisheng, a Christian human rights lawyer, criticised the move and said it had no basis in Chinese law.