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NEW ONLINE CRACKDOWN ON CHRISTIANS IN CHINA

China has tightened its online crackdown against Christians – attempting to control every word and image of religious content on the internet. Tough new measures are being introduced on March 1.

China’s unregistered house churches aided by online content to survive the pandemic and persecution are having that support stripped away, according to a partner of Release International, which serves persecuted Christians around the world.

Shortly before Christmas (December 20), the Chinese government announced that all religious information on the internet will be forbidden unless organizations obtain government permission – which is simply not an option for unregistered house churches. The measure will hit churches, seminaries and other ministries.

In a post on social media, Chinese attorney Huang Deqi described the crackdown as against the Chinese Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion.

Threats against Christians

And he forwarded concerns that national security officers were threatening Christians not to talk about their faith online or make recordings of any sentences containing religious words.

China Aid say all religious content posted on the Internet – every word, image and video – must be approved by the authorities. Failure to seek approval will result in the shutting down of the church’s Internet service.

‘The measures indicate that the Chinese government has dramatically tightened its control on religion. Implementing these new regulations will severely crackdown on freedom of speech and religion which is protected by the [Chinese] Constitution,’ say China Aid. 

Unpacking the tough new policy, the Global Times explained that without specific permission, a church organisation or individual will be forbidden from carrying out missionary work online, conducting religious education and training, publishing preaching content or posting online live or recorded religious services.

Attorney Deqi warned in his online post: ‘It is the citizens’ freedom of religion to express their religious beliefs on the internet…  [these rules] shamelessly restrict citizens’ fundamental rights by setting administrative authorization, which abuses and oversteps authority.’

The attorney’s social media post on WeChat was deleted within hours on February 8, according to Release International’s partner.

Driven underground

‘Much of the church in China has been denied a place of worship and has been driven underground,’ says Release International CEO Paul Robinson. ‘Now the authorities are banning all religious content online by any group that they do not officially control.

‘Place yourself in their shoes. If you were in China, how would your church get permission to go online? First it would have to be registered – and that means being tightly controlled. And then it would have to submit to every scrap of online content being checked and approved to make sure it promotes socialist values and supports the Communist Party.

‘What we have in China is a totalitarian atheist state attempting to exert absolute control over the Church. And yet the persecuted Church in China continues to grow.’

In a recent edition of its Voice magazine (114 April/June 21), Release International drew attention to China’s growing digital authoritarianism. ‘The Chinese authorities are using an army of cyber experts and volunteers to monitor almost all online communications,’ wrote Release International Development manager James Fraser. ‘This is part of their strategy to restrict churches and contain all forms of dissent.’

At the start of the Covid pandemic, a Christian leader in Shandong called for seven days of fasting and online prayer for coronavirus victims. Public security agents accused him of engaging in illegal religious activities and placed him under administrative detention.

Online police

Says Release International partner Bob Fu: ‘There are millions of online police. 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 2021, the Chinese authorities shutdown live stream sermons by Wenzhou pastor Huang Yizi. The pastor had already served two prison sentences for challenging the forced removal of church crosses.

Says CEO Paul Robinson: ‘Release International continues to call for China to stand by its own constitution and permit full religious freedom for its citizens.’

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.