Authorities in China have removed online Bible apps from app stories in China, as well as taking down prominent Christian chat accounts.
According to Father Francis Liu of the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness, those logging in to see Christian chat accounts in China saw the following message: “[We] received report that [this account] violates the ‘Internet User Public Account Information Services Management Provisions’ and its account has been blocked and suspended.”
“Sadly, this doesn’t come as a surprise,” said Dr David Landrum, head of advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland. “Since President Xi Xinping came to power we have seen a concerted and strategic wave of persecution against Christians, with the use and abuse of technology at the forefront of this religious cleansing.”
These latest acts of censorship represent a further step in a systematic campaign of surveillance, control and oppression of Christians and Christian groups within the People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese Communist party keeps tight control over print publishers, and is extending this system to encompass online publication and web-hosting. Even decades on from the cultural revolution, Bibles are not readily available, and their sale is largely restricted to sellers associated with the Patriotic churches.
Many Christians turned to the internet instead: “Plenty of people have already got a Bible app,” said Dr Ron Boyd-Macmillan director of research at Open Doors International. “However, the State already knows who has downloaded these. Members of the Chinese Communist Party have already been questioned about owning the app. And as China’s social credit system is rolled out, which seeks to punish unpatriotic behaviour, owning and continuing to use a Bible app could disadvantage or compromise you.”
Despite the Pope’s 2018 agreement with the Chinese government, Xi Jinping has continued to tighten his grip on Christians, with many in the party regarding Christianity as inherently subversive and bound up with “western” values especially around the dignity of the individual.
“Clearly, the Chinese Communist Party sees the growth of Christianity in China as a threat to its wealth and power,” says Dr Landrum. “It knows that freedom of religion is the foundation for many other human rights and civil liberties, and that the Bible always speaks truth to power. That’s why it is trying to close the book.”