Thousands of Chinese Christians have set up camp around Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, an eastern port city, to prevent it from being demolished by the government.

Last week nearly 5,000 people from the area arrived to protect their church, since then at least 100 people per shift are guarding the church day and night.

Friction has been increasing between China’s officially atheist Communist Party and its growing Christian population, especially since several churches have either been demolished or had their crosses removed under a government campaign to ‘curb the spread of Christianity,’ local residents and religious leaders said April 4.

Officials began a campaign in February to demolish churches that violated local building regulations. Since then, at least six crosses have been taken down. This treatment is not new toward Chinese Christians, as Wenzhou’s underground “house” churches have long been subjected to sporadic crackdowns.

Several Christian leaders claim that the provincial Communist Party secretary objected to seeing many large and bright crosses during a recent trip so now, the newly constructed Sanjiang church, an ‘official’ church which took nearly six years to build and cost the congregation 30 million yuan (US $4.8 million) is under threat.

Sources: Washington Post; Christian Aid; The Telegraph