A Christian man reads the Bible. (Photo: AFP)
Christians in a northern Chinese province have started a prayer campaign for the well-being and release of local Christians arrested two years ago and who face lengthy jail terms for allegedly selling Bibles “illegally.”
A prayer request for Wang Honglan and several Christians was circulated in Protestant house churches in Hohhot, the provincial capital of Inner Mongolia on March 28, Bitter Winter, an online magazine which covers religious freedom and human rights in China, reported.
They were arrested in April 2021 and charged with operating an “illegal business” though they were selling Bibles printed by a government-authorized publisher.
In Communist China, selling Bibles printed without government authorization is a criminal offense, which can result in up to 15 years imprisonment.
Local sources say the government considers Bibles legal if the publisher is connected with the state-sanctioned Three-Self Church that controls Protestant churches in the country.
However, the authorities claim that a “legal” Bible can still be “illegally” sold if those who sell it belong to a non-authorized religious organization.
Honglan and the other Christians are members of an unregistered house church in the city.
Honglan is accused as the mastermind of an “illegal” business that sold Bibles amounting to 40 million yuan (US$145,000) in totaL.
The defendants said the Bibles were printed by a state-approved publisher in Nanjing, the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province. They also denied running a business and making any profit.
They said that they collected donations from Christians to buy Bibles and distribute them to poor Christians who cannot afford to buy Bibles.
While they remained in detention, the People’s Court of Huimin district in Hohhot planned to hold their trial on Jan. 17 last year. However, their lawyers opposed the scheduled date saying they were not granted enough time to study the case.
The prayer request revealed their trial is now scheduled for late April and it may take up to three weeks.
The state prosecutor has sought a 15-year jail term for Honglan and lesser terms for other defendants.
Restrictions on religious activities and religious objects are common in the communist-ruled nation.