China Considers Exposing Religious Persecution As ‘Divulging State Secrets’

Praying together
Two men praying together in Beijing, China. |

In China, the state considers giving information about religious persecution as a crime equivalent to "divulging state secrets" and reserves harsh punishment for those who are caught doing this.

The Chinese Communist Party is conducting a crackdown on so-called "leakers" or people who expose the state's suppression of religious activities and the people's expression of faith, according to a report from Bitter Winter, an online magazine that focuses on religious liberty and human rights.

In one instance, the Ministry of Public Security mobilized a special team to investigate churches regarding a government document that the online magazine featured in one of its reports.

However, the director of a Three-Self church clarified that the said document was not a state secret and that copies of it were in fact distributed in the province. He said the interrogations should not have been necessary, but the government is becoming "overly cautious" of its "stability" and international reputation.

"There was no leak of any state secrets, but the investigation was started, nevertheless. With the growing international criticism of China's crackdowns on religion and violations of human rights, the communist government has become overly cautious and exceedingly worries about the stability of its regime," the church director said.

In 2018, China arrested dozens of reporters for exposing a document called 'Plan for the Special Campaign on Legal Investigation and Prosecution of South Korean Christian Infiltrations,' which outlined how the state would carry out crackdowns against churches in China that were established by Christian groups from South Korea. The publication of the document reportedly affected China and South Korea relations.

The state has taken extra measures to prevent the "leak" of persecution stories. For example, any anti-religion regulation the government wants to impose in schools are communicated verbally instead of in writing.

"All new orders on the expansion of anti-religion measures in schools are now usually conveyed by word of mouth," a teacher from Heilongjiang said. "No materials in writing are given to us teachers. The government is afraid of leaving behind any evidence against it."

China has doubled down on its suppression and surveillance of Christian churches in recent years. Authorities have been gathering information about Christians in different parts of the country and encoding the data in a centralized database, according to another report from Bitter Winter. One such database, called 'Religious Affairs Management and Service Platform,' exists in Henan.

The Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang have not been exempted from this form of surveillance. Police in the area use a data collecting app that is part of the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) in Xinjiang. The app records individuals' personal information, from blood type to electricity consumption to the packages they receive, according to Human Rights Watch.

This data gathering is independent of the "social credit system," which collects information about citizens and scores them based on their behavior.

Based on the social credit system, those who have the least offenses or crimes receive high scores and are allowed more liberty, such as traveling out of town. They also have the privilege of being chosen for promotion or being allowed to acquire property.

Those who have many offenses, such as traffic violations, parking in prohibited areas, and playing too many video games, will have more restricted movements. If a student's parents have a low credit score, that student could be denied acceptance in the university, according to Fox News.

The social credit system is now in place in certain provinces in China. It is expected to be implemented across China next year.

Believers fear the data being gathered about them could be integrated within the social credit system, which could result in even greater persecution.