The crackdown is related to an effort to “Sinicize” — or refashion as Chinese — religion by enforcing loyalty to the atheist Communist Party and getting rid of challenges to its authority over people’s lives, the outlet said.

Bob Fu of the U.S.-based group China Aid, said the recent shuttering of churches in central Henan province and a well-known house church in Beijing equates to a “significant escalation” of the shutdown, the AP reported.

“The international community should be alarmed and outraged for this blatant violation of freedom of religion and belief,” Fu wrote in an email to the outline

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, religious believers are seeing their freedoms shrink dramatically even as the country undergoes a religious revival. Experts and activists say that as he consolidates his power, Xi is waging the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.

Fu also provided video footage of what appeared to be piles of burning Bibles and forms stating that the signatories had renounced their Christian faith. He said that marked the first time since Mao’s radical 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution that Christians had been compelled to make such declarations, under pain of expulsion from school and the loss of welfare benefits.

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A Christian pastor in the Henan city of Nanyang said crosses, Bibles, and furniture were burned during a Sept. 5 raid on his church, the outlet reported. The pastor — who didn’t want to be identified over safety concerns — said several people entered the church when its doors opened at 5 a.m. and began removing items.

The pastor told the AP that local authorities demanded the church “reform” itself, but no agreement had been reached or official documents released. Chinese law dictates that believers can worship only in congregations registered with authorities, the outlet said, but millions nevertheless belong to underground or house churches that resist the government.

This photo taken on May 24, 2015, shows worshipers reading from the Bible as they celebrate the Feast of the Ascension at the ‘underground’ Zhongxin Bridge Catholic Church in Tianjin, which is 68 miles from Beijing and thought to have up to 100,000 Catholics. Each Sunday, hundreds pack the dilapidated building, some sitting on the floor or standing outside, straining to hear the bishop’s sermon over the rumble of passing trucks. 
Zolex Reporters

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