Beijing (AsiaNews) – A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry defended his country’s religious policy, saying that athletes and visitors can bring Bibles and other religious objects into the country, specifying however that they can only bring them in “for personal use.” The clarification comes after a report appeared in some US and Italian media outlets claiming that Bibles would be banned from the Olympic Games, a “total rumour” according to Foreign Ministry Liu Jianchiao who spoke yesterday to reporters.
Under Chinese Law “foreigners are allowed to bring in religious objects or materials, be it print or audio or video,” he said. Rules applying to religious practice will thus not change. Rights associated with “religious freedom in China, [. . .] also apply to foreigners who live in the country, [and] are protected by the Chinese Constitution and relevant laws.”
For his part, Li Zhanjun, director of the Beijing Olympics media centre, slammed the reports, saying they were an “intentional distortion of the truth.”
Yet some official statements made in the last few weeks suggest that for Chinese authorities bringing in any religious material for “propaganda” purposes was as dangerous as importing “weapons and explosives” and are consequently banned.
Many athletes and human rights organisations have asked however what constitutes propaganda. Even making the sign of the cross before a game or a Muslim prayer recited at the edges of a field could be deemed religious propaganda.
According to the Beijing 2008 Website, visitors cannot bring in dangerous materials like blood, infected animals or anything that might be detrimental to China’s policies. In a separate Note, the Website specifically says that “Each travel [sic] is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China.”
Therefore, we can see that there is no special kind of censorship; just business as usual, the same rules every visitor to the People’s Republic of China must submit to 365 days a year.
This means that the authorities will continue to ban all written material from the Falun Gong (a “wicked cult” according to the Chinese government) as well as the distribution of Bibles and other religious texts. Any activity in support of Tibet and the Dalai Lama or meeting with underground religious communities will also be prohibited.
Beijing is especially concerned about statements made by Tibetan Buddhist expatriates that they will try to take advantage of the Olympic Games to denounce China’s attacks against the Dalai Lama and violence against the Tibetan people.
It is equally afraid of the thousands of American evangelical Christians (some of whom are learning Chinese) who are preparing to use the Olympics to import thousands of Bibles and engage in evangelising activities in the country.
So anyone who thought that the Olympic Games would have been a time for China to “taste liberty” must think again for all they will taste will be religious repression.