BEIJING • The Chinese authorities removed a cross from a church yesterday after Christian protesters ended a month-long sit-in on the building's roof in a bid to protect the cross from what they said was its unfair removal, witnesses said.
Communist China officially guarantees freedom of religion though the authorities are sometimes suspicious of religious groups.
Christians in the eastern province of Zhejiang, which has a growing Christian population, say the authorities have been taking down crosses on churches since last year, creating tension between officials and congregations.
Video footage sent to Reuters by congregation member Zhang Zhaoxia of the Ya Village Church in Huzhou city showed the authorities using a crane to remove the cross from the church's steeple. Reuters could not verify the footage.
Up to 22 members of the church staged a rooftop protest for a month to guard the cross, but government officials told their relatives on Thursday that the occupation had to end that day.
Protesters said relatives dragged them away. Church member Pan Yingjue said officials had told church workers the cross would not be removed, but she saw it being taken down yesterday. "If the premises of your home are casually dismantled and moved, how would you feel?" said a weeping Ms Pan.
"The cross was up there all this while and did not affect them at all. Why did they have to touch it?"
Congregation members said they were not told why the cross was taken down.
A Huzhou government official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the foreign media, said the cross was being moved to a wall of the church.
"The police did not dismantle the cross but are moving it from the roof to the exterior wall," he said.
He declined to answer other questions, saying: "The religious issue in China is a highly political one."
The state-run Global Times newspaper said last month the authorities in Zhejiang had denied demolishing crosses, but had said some crosses had been "relocated" out of safety concerns. The newspaper said on Wednesday crosses on churches in Zhejiang violated building regulations.