China bans online bookstores from selling Bibles after pledging to protect religious freedom

(Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)Believers take part in a weekend mass at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin November 10, 2013.

The Chinese government has reportedly banned online bookstore from selling copies of the Bible following the release of a white paper that pledges to protect the religious freedoms in the country.

The white paper, titled "China's Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief," was released by the State Council on Tuesday.

Shortly after its release, Chinese internet users began noticing the disappearances of Bibles from online stores.

Searches for Bibles yielded no results on major online retailers such as Taobao, Jingdong, DangDang.com and Amazon China, according to Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

While some websites were still able to show listings for the scriptures, users have not been able to add the item to their cart.

According to ABC, there has been a surge in the keyword search for "Bible" on Chinese social media platform Weibo the day before internet users began noticing the disappearances of scripture from online stores.

One Chinese Catholic lamented that he and his fellow parishioners have no choice now but to smuggle Bibles from Hong Kong, whereas they have previously been able to purchase the scriptures from online retailers.

"Now our country is extremely strict about religious control, and you can't buy [the Bible] online," the Catholic, who requested anonymity, told Quartz.

William Nee, a researcher at Amnesty International, surmised that the ban was an attempt to "limit the spread of what the Government fears is an alternative belief system."

He also noted that there have been recent reports of a crackdown on house churches in Henan province and other parts of China.

Although the title of the white paper suggests that religious freedom would be protected in China, it insists that faith communities in the country "should adhere to the direction of localizing the religion, practice the core values of socialism, develop and expand the fine Chinese tradition and actively explore the religious thought which accords with China's national circumstances."

Another official document released by China's State Administration for Religious Affairs indicated that there will be a project that is aimed at enhancing "Chinese-style Christianity and theology," which involves reinterpreting and re-translating the Bible.

The Chinese government has intensified its crackdown on religion in recent years with new regulations and demolition campaigns on unregistered churches.

In September, the government issued a new rule that prohibited religious groups from receiving foreign funds.

Nee noted that there has been a surge in religion in China despite the pressure being put on Christians by the government.

"The situation for freedom of religion varies greatly form location to location, with some people going to church and holding Bible studies and other activities with little interference, while in other areas the Government is much more hard line," he said, according to ABC.

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