Refuse to let China sportswash its religious freedom abuses in China

Beijing Olympics

‘Three billion people are set to watch the Winter Olympics…’ says CEO Paul Robinson of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, ‘three billion opportunities to highlight the truth about how China is persecuting its religious minorities, including Christians.’

The Winter Olympics are set to begin in Beijing on February 4, followed by the Paralympics the following month. The decision to allow China to stage the Olympics has divided world opinion.

China stands accused of genocide against its Uyghur peoples. A million or more of these mainly Muslim people have been rounded up into camps for re-education through labour.

China is also acknowledged as one of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world. It’s been named as a country of particular concern by Release International and the US State Department, and stands accused of sportswashing its human rights abuses to try to gain legitimacy.

‘Use every occasion’

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‘We’re calling for prayer,’ says Release International CEO Paul Robinson, ‘that the international spotlight on China will highlight the day-to-day reality facing many who are suffering for their faith, and that fresh pressure will be applied to finally allow full religious freedom for all China’s citizens.’

A Release International partner has declared the games to be a ‘gigantic propaganda show in the city of Beijing’ to showcase the Chinese Communist party. Bob Fu backs a boycott of the Games and is calling for those who do attend to ‘use every occasion, opportunity and gesture to register solidarity with the victims’.

The former Tiananmen Square democracy protester, now in exile in the United States, has likened the Games to the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, which were staged to legitimise the Nazi regime.

Fu, of China Aid, claims that by locking up Uyghurs, who include Christians, in huge compounds ‘China has committed genocide, crimes against humanity’. He likens these massive centres to ‘modern-day concentration camps’.

Bob Fu’s message to sponsors such as Nike and Coca Cola: ‘You are sponsoring the genocide Olympics. Blood is on your hands, on your company’s logo.’

Countries that have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Winter Olympics include the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Lithuania.


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Authorities in China destroy a church in Linfen, Shanxi, in January 2018. (Photo: ChinaAid)

China has demolished churches, torn down crosses, replaced church leaders with those approved by the state, imprisoned others, and installed advanced face-recognition cameras around places of worship to monitor congregations.

China has forbidden those under 18 from attending church, has banned Bible apps and online meetings, and encourages neighbours to report Christian activities to the authorities.

Last August, a court in Shenzhen sentenced Christian Lai Jingqiang to six years in prison and fined him £22,000 for selling audio Bible players on the internet.

The Chinese authorities have launched a programme of Sinicization, intended to bring the church under the ever-tighter control of the Communist Party.

They have also abducted, tortured and murdered Christians in connexion with their faith. These include Christian human rights lawyers who have been rounded up and forced to make televised confessions.

The Chinese authorities often characterise Christians as enemies of the state.

One outspoken Christian pastor, Wang Yi, is serving nine years in prison for ‘inciting to subvert state power’ and so called ‘illegal business operations’.

‘War against the soul’

Wang Yi in 2006 square
Pastor Wang Yi: China is ‘launching a war against the soul’

In 2018 Pastor Wang Yi warned: ‘This country is launching a war against the soul… the rulers of this country… have established for themselves an enemy that can never be detained, can never be destroyed, will never capitulate nor be conquered: the soul of man.’

Shortly before Christmas, the anti-persecution organisation Bitter Winter published a secret document claimed to have been leaked from Guangxi, forbidding schools and kindergartens to celebrate Christmas.

The document entitled: Spreading the Chinese traditional culture and forbidding western festival celebrations, was published by a county Education Department on orders from the Central Communist Committee.

It declared: ‘The day “Christmas” or “Holy Night”… is imbued with deep western religious culture… this is damaging our traditional Chinese culture.’

Christmas ban

The Department of Education directive prohibited ‘teachers and students from organising any celebration event of this western festival’ adding: ‘If anyone finds individuals and organisations doing any event of Christmas or holy night please contact immediately the county Public Security Bureau.’

All this is in direct contradiction to the Chinese Constitution, which is supposed to guarantee freedom of religion and belief.

‘Release International has long called for China to give full religious freedom to its citizens, as guaranteed under the constitution,’ says Release CEO Paul Robinson. ‘We invite Christians from around the world to join us in calling and praying for change.’

Despite the persecution, the Chinese church is one of the fastest growing in the world. Its numbers are conservatively said to exceed members of the Communist Party. To try to halt the increase in Christianity, China is increasingly imposing more rigorous restrictions on the church.

Release International is active in around 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families, as well as Christians suffering oppression and violence, and Christians forced to flee.