In July of this year, Chinese authorities launched a nation-wide campaign to stop the distribution of the Christian newspaper Spring Rain News, and to confiscate all copies in circulation.
Spring Rain News is a spiritual newspaper founded by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in October 2014. The newspaper is published informally as an internal church publication. According to believers, the recent harassment by the authorities has led the church to stop distribution.
Such a brazen effort to suppress a religious publication is alarming enough to defenders of religious liberty. However, details from local sources suggest an even more concerning development: authorities are using subscriber lists of this publication to harass and arrest Christians in multiple provinces simply for subscribing to the newspaper.
The case of elderly Christian Liu Ailing (a pseudonym) of Weinan city in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, illustrates this disturbing trend. In July, three plainclothes officers stormed into Liu’s home, claiming to be police officers from the municipal Public Security Bureau. Officers questioned the elderly woman about the subscription list and delivery operation of Spring Rain News, and about her own belief in God. Only then did Liu realize that she had been targeted by police because she subscribed to the Christian newspaper.
The officers, having entered Liu’s home uninvited, noticed her address book lying on a table. One of the officers took the book, without permission, and began taking photographs of the names and addresses inside. Officers also photographed and took audio recordings of Liu herself. Moving on to Liu’s bedroom, police found more than 200 copies of Spring Rain News. All copies were confiscated.
After completing their surprise search and interrogation, the police prepared a written report. Liu was not allowed to read or contest the report, but an officer physically took her hand and placed her fingerprint on the report, indicating that Liu had signed the document “voluntarily.”
The harassment of subscribers to Spring Rain News is widespread across China, as confirmed by what Ms. Liu learned next. After her incident with the police, Liu contacted other church members. Many believers in other cities who subscribed to Spring Rain News reported being searched and interrogated by the police.
Further investigation revealed that a Seventh Day Adventist pastor and three church elders, who were in charge of publishing Spring Rain News, were arrested in early July, and all of their property was confiscated. This was the second arrest for the pastor. Years before, he had been arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Other sources from different provinces confirm this pattern of harassment. Christians in Shanxi’s Yangquan city and Christians from Jilin city in Jilin Province in the north-east of China also reported that Christians were arrested and interrogated because they subscribed to Spring Rain News. (These subscribers were released after interrogation.) All sources said the investigation and harassment occurred in July, further confirming the timeline of the story.
The sale and distribution of religious books is subject to stringent government restrictions in China. These restrictions have led to a lack of spiritual reading materials. In response, many churches have felt compelled to print their own religious books, but they often face punishment as a result.
This year, the authorities have launched a series of operations to crack down further on religious books. In March, all Bibles were removed from online sales platforms. A comprehensive sales ban was also placed on unofficial versions of the Bible, as well as on the widely distributed Canaan Hymns and other spiritual books. In some regions, such books were confiscated and burned. Many bookstores that sold religious books were fined or directly shut down. Believers in several regions have reported that if they want to mail the Bible or other religious books, these items will be refused by the post office.
With commercially available religious literature becoming ever more scarce, and even informal distribution by mail now under attack, Christians in China seeking spiritual nourishment are facing famine conditions.
Reported by Yao Zhangjin