Demolished churches were built illegally, officials say
Updated: 2014-08-20 07:18
The demolition of churches in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, did not target religion, but was aimed at rectifying illegal construction and paving the way for economic development, according to local officials.
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An official at the Zhejiang Department of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, who declined to be named, said 512 million square meters of illegal constructions had been demolished or refurbished in the province by the end of July.
Only 1.3 million square meters was related to religious use. Other demolished buildings included homes and factories, he said, adding that just 2.3 percent of the religious buildings involved were Christian churches.
Among these, Sanjiang Christian Church in Wenzhou was demolished on April 28 because it violated building restrictions, he said.
Approval was given for a 30-meter-high church occupying 1,881 square meters. But the church occupied 11,004 square meters and was 58 meters high on completion in 2012, he said.
In December, the local government ordered the church to tear down its illegally constructed buildings, setting a deadline of March 31.
The church tore down about 500 square meters of annexes and then stopped the demolition. The government extended the deadline to April 22, but the church failed to meet it.
After clearing protesters from the church, local authorities started demolishing the building on April 28.
"Our purpose is to tear down illegal construction, not target religion," the housing official said.
"A new church can still be built on the 1,881 square meters approved previously," he said, adding that the local government has approved another plot of land for rebuilding and work will start soon.
However, the demolition triggered misunderstanding among Christians in Wenzhou, known for its entrepreneurial vigor and large numbers of believers.
"The demolition was not directed against Christian churches," the official said.
He said the Zhejiang government launched a three-year plan last year to refurbish old homes, factories and village buildings and to demolish illegal construction, to further support economic development.
A senior official at the National and Religious Affairs Commission in Zhejiang province, who asked not to be named, said that to protect religions, the province announced last year that illegally constructed buildings that were completed before Dec 31, 2009, could apply for legal registration and certification.
"There are more than 4,000 Christian churches in the province. More than half of them did not have property ownership and land certificates," he said.
"As long as they follow the procedures ... we will not require them to tear down the buildings."
On April 23, Zhejiang Christian Council and the Zhejiang Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches called for believers to react rationally to "provincial acts".