A new internet regulation in China requires anyone creating or sharing religious content to obtain a permit; failure to do so can result in deletion of accounts, fines or sometimes even imprisonment for repeat offenses.
It’s been more than two months since China’s online religious restrictions went into effect, and many Christians in China agree the harsh changes are forcing them to get creative to continue meeting virtually.
Believers are finding new ways to communicate on WeChat, a widely used smartphone messenger app within the country. An Open Doors partner explains: “[Christians] play on words in coded language, as a way to encode sensitive keywords to lay low from being banned or deleted for posting ‘illegal content.'”
If certain phrases or banned words appear in a post, a reminder to remove any sensitive keywords flashes on the content creator’s screen.
Our Open Doors partner continued: “So far, we are still able to meet virtually on a regular basis by using various communication tools and platforms interchangeably. Coping with censorship, we are trying to stay more vigilant with word choices over texts.”
In some provinces, small online church services were recently interrupted before being cut off completely. In those services, sensitive keywords were mentioned and flagged.
“The measure has raised our concerns, and the consequences are ambiguous,” shares another Open Doors partner in China. “We know access to spiritual resources and connections with other brothers and sisters has further narrowed down. There’s still room to access, but it’s just getting smaller and smaller. But we never cease to find ways to stay connected online.”
Radio Free Asia in March reports that, “authorities in China have launched a mass training program for censors to erase non-government religious content from China’s tightly controlled internet.” However, Open Doors contacts in China say they have not heard of any mass trainings, but the fact the trainings could be taking place in other parts of the country cannot be ruled out.
Our family—our brothers and sisters—in China need our prayers; let’s come before our good God on their behalf:
Let’s pray for the wisdom and discernment of Chinese believers, particularly for church pastors and leaders, that they’ll find ways to communicate with each other.
Let’s pray that the more innovative the government gets in monitoring, our Church family will remain one step ahead of their schemes.
And let’s pray boldly and fiercely that the Chinese government will drop their bans and allow freedom of speech and religion in their country, and that Christians there will be able to meet openly and without fear.
Father God, we ask You to hear our prayers and protect our brothers and sisters in China.