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7/15/07 China (Compass Direct News) – Christians throughout China fear tough restrictions on their freedom to worship in the coming year following the launch of a government crackdown ahead of August 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing .

Christians across China are reporting a shortage of Bibles, even in cities where Bibles previously were readily available. There are reports of ongoing house church raids and arrests, and an unprecedented number of foreign Christians have been expelled from China in recent months.

The crackdown comes in the wake of several important developments in recent years. These include the publication of the book Jesus in Beijing, which alerted government authorities to the increasing influence of Christianity in academic and professional circles; the release of the DVD series “The Cross,” which stressed the growth and commitment of the house church movement in China; and the outcome of a religious survey that in February estimated the total number of religious adherents in China at more than 300 million, three times higher than the official figure of 100 million.

In addition, research presented at a government meeting in January revealed that the number of Christians in China may have reached 130 million, including 20 million Catholics – much higher than previous government estimates, according to a report from the China Aid Association (CAA).

Chinese officials have also reacted negatively to media reports that several large Christian organizations – many of them foreign organizations – are planning outreaches during the Beijing Olympics. For example, The Associated Press on March 22 reported the plans of several mission organizations to “send thousands of volunteer evangelists” to the games.

Mass Expulsions

In February, even before plans for Olympic outreach were leaked in the Western media, Chinese officials met to address the growing influence of Christianity. An “anti-infiltration” campaign code-named “Typhoon No. 5” was launched that month with the goal of drastically reducing contact between foreign Christians and Chinese believers.

For years local authorities had turned a blind eye to foreign Christians working in universities, hospitals, orphanages and business ventures throughout China . Now, however, it seems the government is prepared to revoke visas for any foreign Christian suspected of sharing their faith with Chinese citizens.

A CAA report released on Tuesday (July 10) claimed at least 100 foreign Christians had been expelled or deported from China between April and June. Most were based in Xinjiang, Beijing , Tibet or Shandong provinces, although expulsions were also reported in other provinces such as Xian…

While foreign Christians are expelled, local Christians face harsher treatment.

“For example, a local newspaper recently printed an article about a Uygur believer, naming him as an illegal evangelist and promising to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law,” the source added. “Officials have forbidden local believers to meet and are watching them closely.”

Another foreign Christian expelled from Xinjiang in May said authorities accused him of using a legitimate business to “support the illegal propagation of Christianity” and of “endangering national security.” His “crimes” included sharing his faith with local believers, baptizing people and distributing Bibles and related materials.

Raids, Arrests

While China allows limited freedom for the members of five officially-recognized religious groups, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) and the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), raids on house churches have continued unabated this year.

On January 24, police raided a house church service in Zhangchong township, Jinzhai county, Anhui province. They took photos of every Christian in the room and asked for names and identification. Most of the Christians were released immediately, but three church leaders were taken for interrogation, according to a CAA report.

Police also confiscated bibles, hymn books and musical equipment without providing a receipt.

In February, members of the underground Catholic church in Hebei province reported a door-to-door police search for underground priests. Once caught, police pressured the priests to join the government-approved Catholic church. Those who refused were arrested or lost their jobs.

CAA reported at least 20 Catholic believers and two priests imprisoned at the time of this campaign.

On March 14, police arrested 54-year-old Gu Changrong for sharing her faith with Yu Mingfu, the secretary of the Communist Party in her village in Qinggyuan county, Liaoning province.

Yu called the police and accused Gu of “poisoning Communist Party members” with the Christian message. She was sentenced to one year of re-education through labor for “using evil cult organizations to obstruct the exercising of state laws.”

Back in northwest China , police raided a meeting in Akesu City , Xinjiang on April 19 and arrested 30 Chinese house church leaders along with four U.S. Christians and their translator, Jinhong Li from Beijing .

CAA reported that eight Chinese pastors were released on April 20, but at least six others were detained for 30 days and accused of being involved in “evil cult activities.”

Police also raided a house church meeting in Kunshan , Jiangsu province on April 29, declaring the meeting an “illegal assembly” and confiscating a notebook computer, data projector and other equipment.

House church members Cui Chengnan and Liu Riguo filed a protest application, claiming the charge of holding an “illegal assembly” was a violation of the state’s policies on religion.

Police have carried out multiple raids and arrests in several other provinces in recent months. As recently as June 29, two house church leaders were accused of “using an evil cult to obstruct the law” and sentenced to one year of re-education through labor in Jining City , Shandong province, CAA reported.

CAA also recorded at least 600 arrests throughout China in 2006.

Shortage of Bibles

At the same time, believers across China are reporting a shortage of Bibles and other Christian resources.

The China Christian Council (CCC) claims that Amity Press, the only legal publisher of Bibles in China, is producing enough Bibles to meet the demand…Amity Press has printed a little over 40 million Bibles since it was founded in 1987, but a significant percentage of those Bibles were for export outside China. In addition, many Bibles have been confiscated, burned, or worn out due to overuse; in some areas, house church members still take turns reading the only available copy of Scripture.

In March, Compass spoke with several house church leaders in Kunming who reported an acute lack of Bibles – in a city where Bibles previously were readily available from TSPM churches.

Bibles also have been deliberately withheld from house church pastors; one such pastor told Compass he was refused Bibles when he approached a TSPM church. The same pastor reported multiple visits from police in the first quarter of the year, asking him to register his church through the TSPM.

Both house church and TSPM pastors reported a shortage of Bibles and other Christian materials in the northwest, the northeast, Beijing , and the southwest. Church growth in tribal areas also has created an urgent need for Bibles in minority languages.

Ironically, Anthony Liu Bainian, vice-chairman of the CPA, suggested in March that 20,000 English Bibles should be put in hotel rooms during the Beijing Olympics to “clear up foreigners’ misconceptions about religion in China .”

Olympic Headache

As preparations continue for the 2008 Olympics, critics around the world are calling China to account for ongoing human rights abuses – including religious freedom abuses.

In its 2006 annual report on international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department said China had failed to live up to promises to respect citizens’ faith, persecuting Christians, Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists who refused to accept official controls.

When the report was released, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the report was a “continuation of groundless accusations of China ’s policies on religion and ethnic minorities.”

China observers will be watching closely for “grounds” for these accusations as the Olympics approach.