RLPB 450. China & Vietnam: Church suffers as repression escalates
CHINA & VIETNAM: CHURCH SUFFERS AS REPRESSION ESCALATES
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
(1) CHINA: MOVES TO ‘SINICISE’ BIBLE
On Tuesday 3 April the Information Office of China’s State Council released a White Paper entitled ‘China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief”. The White Paper assures us that ‘the state respects citizens’ freedom to religious belief and protects their normal religious activities’ (emphasis mine). It also explains that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will continue to manage religious affairs ‘in accordance with the law’ and ‘provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to the socialist society’. China’s recent actions serve to demonstrate how religious freedom, management and guidance will be exercised in practice.
The CCP has always sought to control Bible availability and distribution. Of all China’s major religions — including Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and folk beliefs — Christianity is the only religion whose scripture or holy text cannot be sold through normal commercial channels. By law, Bibles must be printed in China by the CCP-approved printer for sale only in CCP-approved churches. It used to be that the only way to meet demand was through Bible smuggling. Then, with the emergence of online retailers, a loophole opened up through which Bibles could be easily purchased. The CCP has now closed that loophole precisely so it might enforce compliance to the law. By 30 March, Chinese consumers were finding that Bibles were no longer available online. In some cases searches yielded no results. In other cases the Bible, though available, could not be added to the shopping cart. Some Christian bookstores have had their online stores shut down entirely.
Two days earlier, on 28 March, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) released an official document entitled ‘Principle for Promoting the Chinese Christianity in China for the Next Five Years (2018-2022). [Note: SARA is in the process of being dissolved into the Central Committee’s United Front Work Department, a department tasked with ensuring all Chinese, at home and abroad, maintain a united front.] Significantly, the document was launched in Nanjing, the home of Amity Printing, which is the world’s largest, and China’s only CCP-approved, Bible printer. A key element of the five-year-plan is the goal to establish a Chinese-style Christianity and theology to ‘consciously develop Bible study talents to lay a solid foundation for re-interpreting and re-translating the Bible or writing the reference books’.
It would be reasonable to assume that in the years to come China will not only have legal (CCP-approved) and illegal churches, but legal (CCP-approved) and illegal Bibles. Legal Bibles will be ‘reinterpreted’ Sinicised Bibles printed in China by the CCP-approved printer (creating a dilemma for Amity) and sold only in legal (CCP-approved) churches (creating a dilemma for those churches) under Big Brother’s watchful eye (a surveillance camera loaded with cutting-edge facial recognition software [see RLPB 415 of 19 Jul 2017]).
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:
* sustain and encourage the Church in China as darkness closes in and threat escalates; may the Lord bless all church leaders with divine wisdom as they seek to lead Christ’s precious flock through the difficult days ahead; may the Lord flood his Church with all the faith and grace they will require, not merely to endure but to shine.
‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ‘ (2 Corinthians 12:9a ESV)
(2) VIETNAM: SHOCK OVER LONG PRISON TERMS
On 5 April the Hanoi People’s Court imposed long prison terms to six human rights activists. RLPB intercessors will be familiar with two of them: human rights lawyer Mr Nguyen Van Dai (48) and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (46). Both men are devout Protestant Christians and courageous religious liberty advocates. Both have suffered beatings and imprisonment for the crime of
‘spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’. Dai was re-arrested in December 2015, along with his assistant Ms Le Thu Ha. [See RLPB 354 (27 Apr 2016)]. The other four activists tried on 5 April were arrested in July 2017. All six were then charged with the more serious crime of ‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s administration’ [see RLPB 417 (2 Aug 2017)].
As regime mouthpiece Viet Nam News (VNS) reported on 5 April, the defendants stood accused of exploiting their illegal pro-democracy platform — Brotherhood for Democracy (founded by Dai in 2013) — as a cover for subversive activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration. As the alleged ‘instigator’, Dai was sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by five years house arrest. The others, described as Dai’s ‘cohorts’, received lesser sentences. One who pleaded guilty received seven years; as an assistant, Ms Le Thu Ha received nine years in prison followed by a surveillance period of two years; while the remaining three received 11- and 12-year prison terms followed by three years’ house arrest. Pastor Ton, who is carrying painful injuries [see RLPB 448 (28 Mar 2018)] received a 12-year sentence.
The trial was held under massive security. Supporters of the accused tried to demonstrate outside the court, but were quickly removed by plain-clothed police. Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh, a devout Christian and active church worker, has travelled widely to secure international support for her husband [see RLPB 359 (1 Jun 2016)]. Distraught, she lamented the absurdity of the charge, the injustice of the trial and the severity of the sentences. ‘We, the relatives, cried after the trial ended and shouted it was an unfair trial.’ Regarding her husband she said, ‘He’s done nothing wrong … He is innocent and he pleaded innocent at the trial. He will continue to fight and will appeal the verdict.’
Commenting on the trial, foreign ministry spokeswoman, Le Thi Thu Hang, praised her country’s human rights and insisted there was no such thing as a ‘prisoner of conscience’, because in Vietnam nobody is ever arrested for freely expressing their opinion. However, according to an Amnesty International report published on 4 April, ‘There are at least 97 prisoners of conscience languishing in jails in Viet Nam, many of whom are kept incommunicado in squalid conditions and routinely subjected to torture or other ill-treatment’.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:
* sustain and comfort all Vietnam’s Christian prisoners, particularly (at this time) Nguyen Van Dai and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton as they prepare to appeal against the gross injustice of their unfair trial and extremely harsh sentences; may the Spirit of God be powerfully present with all his servants, be they in the harvest field, in the courtroom or in the prison cell. And ‘let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ (Amos 5:24 ESV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
CHURCH SUFFERS AS REPRESSION ESCALATES IN CHINA & VIETNAM
China and Vietnam are Communist Party-ruled totalitarian states that have opened up economically in pursuit of prosperity. Both are mitigating the risks of openness by escalating repression and moving to exert greater control over their citizens by cracking down on speech, religion and association. In China, it is no longer possible to purchase Bibles on-line as the authorities move to take control not only of availability and distribution, but of the text itself. In Vietnam, as in China, human rights and religious liberty advocacy is undertaken at great personal risk. On 5 April two Christian religious liberty advocates — human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai (48) and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (46) — received 15- and 12-year prison terms respectively after the court deemed them guilty of subversion. Please pray.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).