“In January and February, we were very active,” Pastor James (not his real name) said about the work his church was doing in Wuhan. “We were talking on the phone ever day. We were posting updates and sending fresh video to our partners to alert everyone about the situation with the coronavirus, but now things have changed.”
Pastor James was one of the key people that alerted Back to Jerusalem about the virus outbreak in Wuhan and prompted our response that sent over 30k medical masks.
“Everything has changed,” Pastor James said in his latest text message. Pastor James said that his church members have been trying to send him updates from Wuhan, but the messages are being deleted off of their phone.
Anyone caught reporting from inside of Wuhan risks getting in trouble with the government. Several citizen journalists that shared vlogs from Wuhan have gone missing.
Chen Qiushi, a former human rights lawyer, who was sharing video from his WeChat account on his phone in Wuhan has gone missing. Just by sharing videos from inside the city, Chen knew that his life was in danger. “”I am scared. In front of me is the virus. Behind me is China’s legal and administrative power,” Chen said in a video on Jan 30. Chen has not been heard from since February 7th.
Fang Bin, a Wuhan businessman, who posted videos of the city’s hospitals on China’s social media WeChat was arrested two days later on February 9th.
Li Zehua, a former employee of China’s official media, was posting personal videos from around the city. A week ago a video was posted of him pleading for help as he was being chased by the secret police.
Later, he posted a live video of two officers coming into his home (pictured above). The video then ends.
Western journalists are being forced out of China at a rate that has not been seen in more than two decades.
Christians working with Pastor James to hand out aid to the people of Wuhan have been arrested and their aid confiscated. Some of the Christians that were arrested last month were thrown into detention facilities that were not sanitary. As a result, several Christians contracted the coronavirus while in detention.
“We are staying inside our flat today, with our daughter who doing her studies from home,” one BTJ workers said. This unnamed BTJ worker is usually working on Bible distribution and evangelist support, but today he is on lock-down in his flat with his family and unable to move around. “We have guards outside our door to make sure that we do not leave our house more than once a week and even then it cannot be for anything other than the basic necessities from the store.”
It has become clear that China is not letting a good tragedy go to waste. Over the last two months, Christians have had to adjust to a new level of government persecution. A new level of electronic surveillance has been put in place and it seems that it is here to stay.
Like in Xinjiang last year, Christians getting into their apartment compound or workplace have to scan a QR code, writing down one’s name and ID number, take body temperature and show recent travel history.
Chinese telecom operators now track people’s movements while social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo have hotlines for people to report those who may be sick. Those hotlines can be changed in the future to target Christian activity.
This system can impact people like the pastor of Wuhan Root and Fruit Church (下上堂基督教会) Huang Lei, who recorded a positive message to simply encourage saints to pray together about the virus.
His video was posted on China’s social media page WeChat and has since been removed:
Some cities are offering people rewards for informing on sick neighbours. What happens when this is changed to offer rewards for people reporting on Christian activity.
Chinese companies are meanwhile rolling out facial recognition technology that can detect faces in a crowd. The government had this capability before, but now private companies are being forced to do the same. It is growing. A range of apps use the personal information of citizens to alert others of their proximity. Today this is for the virus, tomorrow it is for something else.
For the first time in history, China has quarantined 10% of the human race to fight this virus and have implemented a myriad of new security measures all in the name of containing the virus.
With all of the extra layers of public monitoring as additional bureaucratic hurdles – each one more intrusive and sinister than the last – did NOTHING to prevent the outbreak of the coronavirus, but do not expect that to make a difference.
When the coronavirus goes away, and it most likely will, China will praise their own efforts and use this as a reason for the most high tech, extensive, government monitoring program ever launched in history.
BTJ is working with Pastor James to continue to supporting the church in China during these hard times and taking steps to help the church combat restrictions and monitoring programs by inventing ways around them.