The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is extending surveillance technologies like facial recognition in China, with religious places being seen as a critical area to be brought under monitoring.
Authorities in Jiangxi Province recently instructed all state-run places of worship to be equipped with facial recognition cameras and allocated 1 million RMB (approx. US$151,253) towards the project.
Facial recognition systems
Between July and September, around 200 surveillance cameras were installed in more than 50 churches, with some venues being equipped with as many as 14 cameras. Local officials have admitted that the cameras are being installed to monitor the actions of the believers in addition to hearing the contents of the sermons.
One Catholic priest noted that they now have to be very careful about the things they say in the church since the government can essentially use their statements to persecute them.
In addition to churches, 16 Taoist and Buddhist places of worship were equipped with around 50 cameras.
“The cameras are specially made and installed with the Public Security Bureau’s approval… All identity information is stored in the Public Security Bureau’s surveillance system once cameras register someone’s face. It notifies immediately when a person blacklisted by the police is identified,” a worker who installed the cameras said to Bitter Winter.
In August, a meeting of Christian clergy members was arranged that was attended by an official from the government’s United Front Work Department. The official revealed a government plan to install cameras in all religious venues in eastern Henan Province, with the cameras being connected to the Sharp Eyes public surveillance system.
At least three cameras would be installed in each religious venue. The official threatened clerics, telling them to preach strictly within the government guidelines. Since the sermons will be recorded, any priest who fails to comply with the instructions can be punished by the state.
In the city of Binzhou, a church was reprimanded after cameras showed that it had allowed minors to attend. A deacon points out that people within his church are now afraid to talk about anything critical of the government, Hong Kong, or sensitive issues.
Some Christians are also leaving the church out of fear that their social benefits will be revoked by the government.
One Chinese church leader warned in October that Christians were being pressured to hide their faith in the workplace. In addition, the expansion of the Social Credit System (SCS) will put additional pressure on Christians since it ranks citizens based on their “trustworthiness.”
As the government is already suppressing Christianity, it is inevitable that people who show a strong Christian faith would be classified as untrustworthy by the SCS, which would lead to a reduction in social and financial benefits.
Promoting the CCP in churches
The Chinese regime has also ordered some pastors to promote government policies while talking to followers. Church gatherings were banned during much of the year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Such gatherings are slowly being allowed once more, but on the condition that the church speaks positively about the government’s efforts.
In the southeastern province of Fujian, a pastor was asked to incorporate President Xi Jinping’s policies on food waste reduction during the sermon. Another pastor from Zhejiang revealed that he was instructed to talk about local government efforts to reduce unemployment.