Chinese officials, who have expelled dozens of Christian missionaries in an apparent crackdown in advance of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, are denouncing a report that they will ban Bibles in the athletes’ housing complexes during the event.
Reuters quotes Liu Jianchao, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, telling reporters in Beijing that the story in the Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport wasn’t correct.
“The facts show that this news is a total rumor,” Jianchao said. “The Chinese government has not come up with any such rule.”
The official website for the 2008 Games does, however, advise that visitors should not bring more than a single Bible.
On a page of information about entry into China, it advises visitors must pass certain checkpoints for visa, passport and health declaration forms.
Luggage also will be inspected for food, biological products, blood or animals that may “spread infectious diseases,” the webside said.
“Note: Each travel[er] is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China,” the advisory adds.
The report from the La Gazzetta dello Sport was picked up by the Catholic New Agency and reported in the U.S. But Jianchao said China’s religious affairs authorities, who control religious activities in the nation, “have not – and could not – issue a rule banning the Bible in the Olympic village.”
“We are suspicious of the motivations for why these people would spread such rumors,” he said. “They should be responsible and not do things that are not beneficial for them and harm mutual understanding between China and the world.”
A statement forwarded from the U.S. Olympic Committee said it had gotten confirmation Bibles would be allowed. Officials said the report apparently stemmed from a “miscommunication” between a journalist in Italy and the organizing committee.
Just a day earlier, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the Chinese ambassador in Washington on the carpet for the report of the ban.
Chinese Christian reading the Bible
The CNA report said Bibles would be among a list of “prohibited objects” for athletes, even though U.S. Olympic Committee officials confirmed to WND that typically the only banned items would be those that present a “security risk,” such as the items banned from airliners.
“I can’t think of a worse decision for the communist Chinese government to make,” Graham told Fox News.
He said if such a report had come in about one of America’s allies, it would have been dismissed out of hand.
“The fact that we’re not sure (about the report) says a lot about China,” he said. “This issue could resonate in a way to harm U.S.-China relationships.”
Graham said his concern was increased by the ambassador’s response.
“He couldn’t tell me no. He couldn’t say, ‘Sen. Graham, this is crazy,'” Graham said.
If the policy hasn’t yet been adopted, but is being considered, he said, it should be “taken off the table.”
Another congressman, Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., took to the floor of the U.S. House to denounce the ban plan and introduced a resolution condemning the attack on Christianity.
“As the world stumbles toward the communist propaganda extravaganza labeled the Beijing Olympics, somewhere Chairman Mao is looking up at us and laughing,” he said.
He also called on the communist government to let the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom or another international human rights group have unrestricted access to the events, to “ensure the protection of Christians and other religious persons.”
Leaders with the Catholic League also raised objections.
“I am writing today to the 15-member Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland asking for an immediate investigation into allegations that the Communist Chinese government plans to violate the Olympic Charter by banning athletes from bringing Bibles to the 2008 Olympic Games,” said Catholic League President Bill Donohue.
“Principle No. 5 of the Fundamental Principles of Oympism in the Olympic Charter reads, ‘Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement,'” he said.
Donahue said the IOC “has the power to withdraw the right of the host city to organize the Olympic Games if the Charter is violated.” Or, he said, a warning could be issued.
“Accordingly, I am asking the IOC to do just that. If the warning fails, then the Catholic League will petition the IOC to deny China the 2008 Olympic Games,” he said.
The La Gazzetta dello Sport report said video cameras and cups also would be banned.
“The Spanish daily La Razon said the rule was one of a number of ‘signs of censure and intolerance’ towards religious objects, particularly those used by Christians in China,” the CNA report said. “Currently in China five bishops and 15 priests are in prison for opposing the official [government-run] church.”
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, whose Bibles Unbound program offers American citizens the opportunity of mailing Bibles into China, said it’s not illegal for an individual to own a Bible in China.
But he said the government there controls access to Bibles by restricting imports and controlling the actual printing of Bibles within China.
The Bibles Unbound program is perfectly legal, even within China, he said.
“We are not breaking Chinese law to send one New Testament to one person,” Nettleton explained.
But he said the number of Bibles needed is overwhelming.
On a Voice of the Martyrs blog, that specific issue was the topic of discussion.
Nettleton said a recent report noted the Chinese press has been trumpeting the fact that China government-controlled Bible printer, Nanjing Amity Printing Co., had printed 43 million Bibles between 1981 and 2006, about 1.7 million a year.
“Now 43 million sounds like a large number. But remember that there are more than 100 million Christians in China,” said the blog posting. “That means that, over a 25-year period, the government didn’t even print enough Bibles for half the Christians to have one!”
A VOM blog posting noted few Christians in China have computers or Internet access to read the Bible, and even though they are available, they often are not accessible in areas where people want them.
The posting also said police often following people home and arrest them if they try to purchase any significant number of Bibles.
The VOM blog by Nettleton then continued: “Friends, you will read much in the months between now and the Beijing Olympics about how FREE it is in China, how oppression and persecution have gone into the past and how our brothers and sisters are living and worshipping in freedom and ease. Unfortunately, at times you will read such stories even from reputable Christian sources. Our friends in the unregistered churches … and in Chinese prisons … have a very different story to tell. Do not forget them.”
He said Americans have no idea how much the Chinese government monitors and how much it wants to control the information that could affect its image.
“I was in Beijing three or four years ago, watching CNN, a story about AIDS in China,” Nettleton told WND. “Then the screen goes blank and it’s blank for four or five minutes. CNN comes back on. … You know somebody else watching.”
WND also previously has reported China’s apparent crackdown on Christians and Christianity in advance of the 2008 Games, including the expulsion of more than 100 foreign Christians in China in just a 90-day period. Some called it the biggest assault on the presence of Christianity in China since 1954.
The report from the Voice of the Martyrs said most of the foreigners expelled are from the U.S., South Korea, Singapore, Canada, Australia or Israel, and had been working in or visiting Zinjiang, Beijing, Tibet and Shandong.
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