Authorities with the Chinese Communist Party are suspected to have hacked a Hong Kong church webinar, monitoring Christians discussing the country’s church-state relations and eventually booting the pastor from the session.
International Christian Concern reports that on Aug. 30, the Church of Christ in China Tuen Mun Church was hosting a webinar titled “The Historic Changes of the Cross Under the Red Flag” when three unknown users identifying themselves with the Chinese government requested to join.
Three users identified as “National Security Bureau in China- Hong Kong Branch,” “National Security Bureau in China," and “Shenzhen government” demanded access at the beginning of the session. All three were denied by the administrator, as the webinar was only opened to registered church members.
When Pastor Chan Minyi mentioned this incident toward the end of the webinar, he was repeatedly removed by an unknown party from the session. He was booted from the session at least 10 times, followed by other coworkers from the church, forcing the church to end the webinar prematurely.
Confident his coworkers were not the ones who had removed him, Chan said he suspected there were “other people” tapping in the webinar. Though the church met through Google Meet, not Zoom, for security reasons, they were still put under surveillance.
“I believe the webinar is speaking the truth and is not in violation of any law,” the pastor said, adding that reporting the incident to police is futile, as the police and the national security personnel are essentially the same entity.
Similar reports have emerged out of China, where authorities routinely use technology to suppress religion and religious minorities.
In April, several members of China’s heavily persecuted Early Rain Covenant Church were arrested by communist authorities for participating in an online Easter worship service on Zoom and ordered to cease all religious activity.
In July, two Chinese cyber thieves sanctioned by the U.S. for targeting firms involved in coronavirus research were also accused of hacking the private emails of a Christian house pastor and sharing them with communist officials, leading to his arrest.
Recently, Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, detailed how China is employing its “most aggressive technology” to oppress Uighur Muslims, including sophisticated cameras, facial-recognition technology, and collecting DNA samples.
Brownback predicted that China's methods represent “the future of religious oppression,” adding that eventually, religious minorities are “going to be oppressed by a system where they can't live and work in the society if they choose to practice their faith.”
“It’s the future of the world if we don’t stop this. You can look at this [and] say, ‘That's a long way away, it's not my religion, and it's going to be fine.’ But this stuff is coming if we don't get on and stop it early,” he said.
China is ranked on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians.
China has also been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for “continuing to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”