Citing building code violations, police in China's city of Wenzhou have removed a 10-foot cross from a local church. Wenzhou is considered be "China's Jerusalem" due to its large Christian population.
With the aid of a crane and blowtorch, Chinese police brought down the red crucifix that had adorned the Longgang Township Gratitude Church in Wenzhou.
Crosses at two other churches in the southeastern province of Zhejiang also suffered the same fate. Authorities, in the demolition notices sent to over 100 churches, said their structures violated zoning regulations.
"We didn't want to get in a fight with them, but obviously what they did was illegal," the Gospel Herald quoted Rev. Qu Linuo, a pastor from a nearby church. He was among a group of Christians who held an overnight vigil before the police arrived and dismantled the cross.
Some 200 congregants attempted to shield the cross from being brought down, the AP reported. The police afterwards returned the crucifix to the congregants, who reportedly wept and prayed around the violated religious image.
Police had claimed they are just implementing the building code regulations as implemented, but church groups believe China is out to curb the fast-growing religion. According to data from the Pew Research Center, there are 58 million Protestants in the country in 2011 actively practicing the religion, along with nine million Catholics in 2010.
"The number of Christians has grown to such an extent that there are now more Christians in China than Communist party members and that scares them," the Gospel Herald quoted a certain pastor Joy from Wenzhou. "But Christians still have a negative image in China where there is a history of persecution. All that has played a part."
Reports said there are currently 86 million members of the Communist Party.
Earlier in July, police attempted to remove a cross from a church in Pingyang county. But the operation ended in a riot when the congregation surrounded the church, preventing the police from getting close.
"We did not want them to get close, so we joined up to stop them getting in, but they came at us and beat us," a protester whose family name was Zhang told Reuters. He said the police presence was at about 500.