Source: Direct Reports from China
Date: June 21, 2018
Five students from the Gongyi City First Secondary Professional School in Henan Province were taken to a police station for sharing a humorous message with “religious” content on WeChat – highly popular instant messaging app in China. The incident demonstrates the scale of suppression of religious beliefs in China and enormous resources the government employs to restrict religious freedoms, even for non-believers.
At 12:30 p.m. on April 12, five students in one of the school’s dormitories were about to take a nap when one of them (not a religious believer) posted a message on his classmates’ group chat: “I am your Lord, you are my followers.” After sending the message, it unexpectedly changed to a “*” on the student’s phone, as it did on the phones of all the recipients. Without paying any attention to this, the five students went to sleep.
At 2 p.m., after arriving at their classroom, the five students were called to the Student Affairs Office and were surprised to learn that the WeChat message has caused problems. The director ordered them to go back to the classroom and stay there, adding, “We live in sensitive times, there’s a crackdown on religious belief, don’t put yourselves in the firing line and don’t cause trouble.”
Two hours later, two officers from the city’s Eastern District police station arrived at the school and took the students to the station, allegedly, for assistance in one of their investigations into “religious problems.”
The police blocked their phone signals, explaining that this was because they had received “abnormal signals” that had been directly tracked to the students’ dormitory. The officers then informed them about the government’s policies toward religious belief and made them fill in a paper-based questionnaire containing 107 questions about religious faith, after which the five students were interviewed, disguising this as a psychological test. Two police officers questioned the five students about religion, culture, history, the Nineteenth Communist Party Congress, and their personal habits. It lasted for about 10 minutes per person in an interrogation room, which was barely 4 square meters, completely soundproofed and windowless, with a large, bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
Having confirmed that they were not religious believers, the police allowed them to return to school. When they got back, the class teacher told the students not to mention or discuss the matter again. At 5 p.m. on April 16, the school convened a meeting of all teachers and students to strengthen ideological and political education and prohibit students from participating in religious activities. The school, reportedly, holds such meetings 2-3 times a