4 Christians in China facing hefty prison sentences for selling audio Bibles

Row of Chinese Bibles is displayed at the traveling Chinese Bible exhibition in Washington, D.C. The exhibition, titled “Thy Word Is the Truth: The Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Protestant Church in China,” was launched Sept. 28 at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., where it will remain until Oct. 2. | The Christian Post /Amanda Winkler

Chinese authorities arrested four Christians for selling audio Bibles as part of a government campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.” The Christians now face hefty prison sentences.

Religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter reports that the four Christians — Fu Xuanjuan, Deng Tianyong, Han Li and Feng Qunhao — worked at a company called Life Tree Culture Communication Co., Ltd., which was founded in 2011 in the province of Guangdong. The believers sold electronic units that had the Bible pre-loaded on them.

They were arrested on July 2 on charges of “illegal business operations."

The Christians have another court hearing on Dec. 9, according to International Christian Concern. Authorities are seeking harsh sentences for the accused, with the suggested sentence for Fu being five years in prison; Deng, as the company’s supervisor, to serve three years in prison and pay a fine; Feng, as the technician, to also serve three years in prison and pay a fine, while Han, as the accountant, to serve 18 months and pay a fine.

ICC notes that Life Tree Culture Communication Co. is a “legally established company,” but if China’s “government wants to criminalize you, it does not need a reason.”

“The hefty sentences against these Christians are used to scare other Christians so they would not dare to sell Bibles without going through state-sanctioned churches.”

Such incidents are not uncommon in China, where religious practice outside state-sponsored groups is strictly controlled. 

Recently, a Christian in Guangdong told Bitter Winter that police investigated him because he had bought an audio Bible player online.

“The police found the believer’s personal information on the company’s sales list,” Bitter Winter reported. “They searched his home and questioned him repeatedly on the player’s whereabouts.”

In Zhejiang, another Christian was investigated for buying multiple audio Bible players and was told not to distribute them to Christians again.

In April 2018, the Chinese government banned online retailers from selling copies of the Bible. Legally, the Bible can only be distributed by government-approved agencies that supervise Christian churches in China. 

Since then, the crackdown on Bibles and religious literature has only increased. 

In September, a Chinese Christian online bookstore owner was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined nearly $30,000 for engaging in what the communist regime deems as “illegal business operations.”

Open Doors ranks China at No. 23 on its list of 50 countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian. The nonprofit notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political, or invite foreign guests.

Despite persecution, Christianity is growing in China. According to the World Evangelical Alliance, the Protestant church has grown from 1.3 million members in 1949 to at least 81 million members today. Similarly, the Catholic Church in China has grown from 3 million members to over 12 million during the same 50-year period.

In an interview with The Christian Post, the newly-appointed head of the WEA, Thomas Schirrmacher, said there is a “religious freedom crisis around the world" and vowed to work toward “much closer solidarity” between countries that offer a great amount of religious freedom and countries where Christians are under pressure.

“[Many] persecuted Christians have the impression they have been forgotten. Now, that may not be true, we may mention them during a day of prayer, but they don’t know that,” he said. “Many feel forgotten. Working toward solidarity with believers is truly high on my agenda.”

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