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Suppressing religion online

A draft law threatens the future of Christian websites in China

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Suppressing religion online
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I’ve written in the past about the plethora of Chinese Christian media online, providing Christians with video sermons, written testimonies, movie reviews, and in-depth theological articles. As long as these media outlets stay away from politics and breaking news, they’re allowed to publish content that enriches and informs their readers. Most post content on the ubiquitous Chinese social media app WeChat.

While working on the 2016 story “Peering into a fiery furnace,” I subscribed to several of the most well-known Christian WeChat channels, including Overseas Campus, 7g.tv (a video site), Church China, and Territory. Every day, my WeChat subscription feed filled with new stories with headlines like “Is assurance of salvation essential to our faith?” “Here are some problems with the theory of evolution,” and “God is starting a completely new season, repentance is key.”

The writers of these stories don’t have the same freedom Christians in the West have, yet they’ve been able to address otherwise taboo topics like porn addiction and depression, unpack complicated Scripture passages, counsel Christians dealing with difficult marriages and unmanageable children, and inspire readers with testimonies of how God rescues sinners.

Yet upcoming regulations could mean the end of Christian media online: Last month, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs released a draft law that would restrict the types of religious information that can be posted online. It would ban videos of prayer, baptism, burning incense, or other religious activities, as well as online evangelism.

Religious media would need to register with the government, which requires applicants to be an organization “lawfully established” in China. This would exclude house churches and foreigners (including ministries based in Taiwan or Hong Kong) who run WeChat channels, according to a crowdsourced translation of the draft law’s text on China Law Translate. Provincial-level religious affairs departments would decide whether to approve or reject the applicants, and each license would be valid for three years.

Reasons the government could take away that license include using religion to “incite subversion of state sovereignty, to oppose the leadership of the Communist Party, … [and] to undermine national unity.” The draft law also said “undermining the peaceful relations between different religions” is also banned, which could mean that a Christian publication would not be allowed to point out the exclusivity of Christianity. The sites would also not be allowed to attract minors to a particular religion or recruit followers.

Only registered groups would be able to post sermons online. Sermons must be “conductive to social harmony, the progress of the times, and healthy civilization, leading religious citizens in proper thought and action.” Same with teaching: Only registered schools would be allowed to carry out religious education online, and all of their website participants must use their real name.

If the draft becomes law and authorities strictly enforce it, it would be a blow to vital resources for Christians.

—A version of this story appears in the Nov. 10 issue of WORLD under the headline “Suppressed and silenced.”

Censorship in journalism:

What are the red lines that Chinese journalists don’t dare cross? China Digital Times translated an article that interviews 23 Chinese journalists to learn what it’s like to be a reporter in a country without press freedom. Here’s one telling quote: “It used to be that you’d go to the news scene, and the story might get banned two or three days later. Later on, you’d receive the censorship order en route to the scene, but you’d still do interviews, in case you could publish later. But now you don’t even bother going to the scene, because publishing is totally out of the question.”

June Cheng

June is a reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and covers East Asia, including China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.



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