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CHINA’S DIGITAL AUTHORITARIANISM

The Chinese authorities are using an army of cyber experts and volunteers to monitor almost all online communications – part of their strategy to restrict churches and to contain all forms of dissent, writes Development Manager James Fraser.

During the past year, as Christians in the UK and Ireland, we have become very used to online church in all its various forms.

We’ve enjoyed pre-recorded services complete with fireside sermons, multi-track worship songs and fun children’s activities; live video call prayer meetings involving people from different towns and even different countries; evangelism and discipleship through online courses and discussion groups. Online church has been a lifeline for us. But what if your participation in this kind of digital fellowship was enough to see your home raided and your church leaders detained?

In this country we are vaguely aware that our online activity is tracked by cookies and algorithms. And although that may be mildly unsettling, until now it has not restrained our religious freedom.

However, in China that is not the case. Right at the start of the pandemic a Christian leader in Shandong province called for seven days of fasting and online prayer for coronavirus victims – and was promptly visited and questioned by public security agents. They informed him that he was engaging in illegal religious activities and placed him under administrative detention.

According to Release partner Bob Fu (pictured), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) practises ‘digital authoritarianism’ by employing an army of cyber experts and volunteers to monitor and track online activity.

‘There are millions of online police,’ he said. ‘They report any suspicious online religious activity. So even a prayer meeting could be detected and sometimes reported, and your home could be raided.’

In February this year Wenzhou pastor Huang Yizi requested prayer after online monitors shut down his livestream sermons. Pastor Huang has already served two prison sentences for opposing the forcible removal of church crosses and is routinely monitored and randomly summoned for questioning by the authorities. His recent online censorship is simply another attempt to silence his gospel witness.

As well as shorter-term detention for online infringement, Christian leaders in China also risk much longer sentences for faithfully leading their churches, and extended time in prison comes at huge personal and emotional cost.

In a recently released poem written in December 2019 – two days prior to being sentenced to nine years in prison – Early Rain Covenant Church pastor Wang Yi lamented the enforced separation from his son Shuya:

Miss my Son
The peach blossom does not covet fruit
The East wind misunderstands
how I miss my son
If the lamb did not replace Isaac
How could one compare
the biological with the Heavenly Father?

Shuya was only 12 years old when Pastor Wang was imprisoned. He will be 21 by the time his father is released. It is difficult to imagine their mutual loss.

However, despite the renewed aggression of the Chinese government against Christians, God’s purposes are not thwarted. There is clear evidence that the church there continues to grow.

One practical way Release partners ‘remember those in prison’ (Hebrews 13:3) is by locating Christian prisoners and reconnecting them to their families and friends.

Ju Dianghong (China Aid)

In 2017, for example, Ju Dianghong (pictured) and Liang Qin were sentenced to jail terms of 13 and 10 years respectively for their Christian activities. But the location of their prison was never disclosed, and no one knew where the women were.

After an exhaustive search Release partners were eventually able to locate Ju and Liang in a remote facility more than 1,000 miles from Ju’s hometown. Naturally, their families and friends celebrated, although the distance makes visiting them expensive and time-consuming.

Now that their prison address has been found there is nothing to stop Ju and Liang’s wider Christian family expressing their support and encouragement. Could you write to these faithful Christian sisters and assure them that they have not been forgotten?

After an exhaustive search Release partners were eventually able to locate Ju and Liang in a remote facility more than 1,000 miles from Ju’s hometown. Naturally, their families and friends celebrated, although the distance makes visiting them expensive and time-consuming.

Now that their prison address has been found there is nothing to stop Ju and Liang’s wider Christian family expressing their support and encouragement. Could you write to these faithful Christian sisters and assure them that they have not been forgotten?

PLEASE SEND A LETTER OR CARD

Liang Qin
No. 1 Prison for Women of Yunnan Province,
Kunyang Town, Jinning District,
Kunming City, Yunnan Province,
China 650600

Ju Dianghong
No. 1 Prison for Women of Yunnan Province,
Kunyang Town, Jinning District,
Kunming City, Yunnan Province,
China 650600

When writing, please follow our guidelines:

  • be polite and respectful
  • keep your letter or card short and write clearly
  • say that they are loved and not forgotten
  • quote an encouraging Bible verse

Please DO NOT:

  • mention Release International or any other organisation
  • write about politics or criticise the authorities
  • give your full name or contact details
  • send any money with your letter or card

More information on how to write  to Christian prisoners is given in our Reach Out booklet available here. To ask for a paper copy, please call: 01689 823491.


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