Chen Yu is the owner of a Christian online bookstore who was charged by Chinese authorities with "illegal business operation" after he sold more than 20,000 Bibles and Christian books, most of which were published in Taiwan and the U.S. In 2020, he was charged by Chinese authorities after they found more than 12,000 books on his premises, which they eventually destroyed.
According to Bitter Winter, an appeals court recently held the 2020 decision to send Chen to jail for seven years for the selling of Bibles. According to the report, Chen sold books in Shandong, Henan, and other provinces and remained "comparatively undisturbed" by Chinese authorities until his arrest in 2019.
Chen had also sold books by Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, who was often the target of Chinese authorities. Some believe this may have played a role in Chen's arrest and conviction, as Wang is also serving a prison term for operating what Chinese authorities believed was an illegal house church and criticizing China's persecution of house churches.
The prosecutor in Chen's case called his bookstore an "anti-Chinese conspiracy." The Christian bookstore owner is now detained in Zhejiang province. International Christian Concern's regional manager for Southeast Asia, Gina Goh, remarked that Chen's sentencing demonstrates "how the Chinese government is increasingly frightened by all things religious," the Christian Headlines reported.
"From religious symbols, Chinese couplets, to Christian books, anything that features religious elements is no longer tolerated by the Chinese Communist Party," Goh explained.
"The disproportionate sentencing of Christians, such as Early Rain Covenant Church Pastor Wang Yi and Chen Yu, under the same charge implies that the crackdown against Christianity will only intensify. The US government and international community should continue to stand up to the tyranny in Beijing."
Now, Christians who purchased books from Chen may also be targeted by the Chinese authorities. A house pastor remarked, "People who buy Christian books are practicing believers, so the government looks into them to determine how dangerous they are to the stability of their regime."
China's continued crackdown on Christians and other religious minorities in the communist state is part of their sinicization campaign, which aims to force religious beliefs and faiths to align to the CCP's political ideology. According to Nikkei Asia, China is looking to ban efforts to spread religion through online means like social media. In fact, the Chinese Communist Party is already tightening restrictions on religious activity ahead of the party congress later this year.
The "Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services," which forbids or strictly limits online activity relating to religion, will take effect on March 1. In December, President Xi Jinping highlighted the "sinicization" of religion in China, stressing that religious affairs must be "actively guided to adapt to a socialist society."
Freedom House, a U.S. based human rights organization, estimates that there are about 60 million to 80 million Protestants and about 12 million Catholics in China, including those who participate in underground churches that are not recognized by the communist government.