China is keeping a closer eye on churches in the country.
Officials in the Zhejiang province have started to install surveillance cameras in churches there, for “anti-terrorism and security purposes.”
The new ruling quickly sparked friction between Christians and the communist government, with one Christian claiming that pastors and worshippers who “didn’t agree to the move were dragged away,” the South China Morning Post reported.
“Government officials came to the churches and put up cameras by force,” the witness based in Wenzhou said.
According to China Aid, a Christian activist group, officials destroyed parts of the building, including the church’s gate, in order to get in.
“A number of churches were destroyed in Wenzhou during the forced installation of surveillance cameras. Ironic that they were installing it for security reasons!” said one netizen on Weibo.
Zhejiang’s Wenzhou city has one of the highest Christian populations in China, at nearly a million.
Ningbo, also in Zhejiang province, similarly has a large population of Christians that were affected by the ruling.
However, religious authorities say that the requirement does not “single out churches” but covers all public places.
“The requirement covers all public places in Ningbo, and does not single out churches,” Jin Ke, deputy director of Ningbo’s ethnic and religious affairs bureau told state media outlet the Global Times.
Officials added that surveillance systems had also been installed across schools and hospitals.
The ruling to equip public areas in China with video surveillance was first issued in 2015, but officials have refused to explain why the installation was only carried out some two years later.
This is not the first time Chinese officials have come up against Zhejiang’s Christian community.
Authorities had in 2014 ordered the removal of crosses on top of its church buildings, calling them “illegal structures.”
The campaign, which saw some 360 crosses removed and one church demolished, had sparked international outrage.