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Snapshots of China

‘Violated and obstructed’

Chinese churches protest persecution and censorship, and Google reportedly makes plans to help Communist officials block information

In a statement released late last month, 34 house churches in Beijing called on the Chinese government to respect the freedom of religious belief clause in the Chinese Constitution. Since Communist officials implemented new religious regulations back in February, house churches around China have faced greater government pressure: In some areas, police have shut down church gatherings, banned children from attending services, and forced churches to take down crosses.

“The normal religious lives of believers have been violated and obstructed, causing serious emotional harm and damage to their sense of patriotism, as well as causing social conflict,” the statement said, according to a translation by Radio Free Asia. “The situation seems to be getting worse and worse.”

The signatories include Beijing Zion Church, one of the largest “house churches” in the country, with 1,600 congregants. In recent months, the government pressured the church’s landlord to evict the congregation after the pastor refused to install surveillance cameras inside the church’s auditorium. Local officials have met with 100 church members with the aim of convincing them to leave the church, threatening their jobs or offering to get their kids into a better school. This week, police shut down six of Zion’s satellite campuses, although the main site remains open, according to China Aid.

Another Beijing house church signatory, Christian Saints Love Fellowship, is also facing eviction and often receives surprise visits from the police, according to Radio Free Asia. Elder Xu Yonghai told RFA he doesn’t expect the statement to bring change from the government: “It’s far more likely that churches will have to put up with further forms of persecution as a result of speaking out.”

Authorities have also shut down Zion Church’s public WeChat account, which had previously posted daily devotionals, sermons, and church announcements. Chinese censors are known to quickly delete information they deem sensitive, including any criticism of the government.

Authorities shut down Zion Church’s public WeChat account, which had previously posted daily devotionals, sermons, and church announcements. 

Soon Google may be helping China censor such content. Last week The Intercept reported Google has been working on a censored version of its search engine for Android phones in order to re-enter the China market. The project, code-named “Dragonfly,” would censor searches on topics such as human rights, democracy, and religion on Google platforms, including image search and suggested search.

Google previously created a censored search engine for China in 2006, but withdrew it four years later due to concerns about the Chinese government limiting free speech, blocking websites, and directing hacking attacks on activists. According to The Intercept, only a few hundred of Google’s 88,000 employees knew about the secret project, and many expressed outrage last week when they learned of it.

A bipartisan group of six U.S. senators this week issued a letter asking Google CEO Sundar Pichai for details about the Dragonfly project, which they called “deeply troubling and risks making Google complicit in human rights abuses.” The letter goes on to ask: “What has changed since 2010 to make Google comfortable cooperating with the rigorous censorship regime in China?”


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Tao Zhang/Getty Images

Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology Co. (Tao Zhang/Getty Images)

Snapshots of China

The ‘Wild East’

Child vaccine scandal focuses attention again on lax ethics in Chinese healthcare

Chinese citizens were outraged Monday after a government investigation revealed hundreds of thousands of Chinese children received defective vaccines from a major medical manufacturer, further eroding Chinese citizens’ trust in domestically manufactured medicine.

An inspection of Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology’s facilities this month found the company fabricated production and testing records and falsified production specifications and equipment, according to China’s Food and Drug Administration (CFDA). The fraud affected at least 113,000 doses of Changsheng’s anti-rabies vaccine and more than 250,000 doses of its diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough vaccine.

Many of the substandard vaccines had already been given to children as young as 3 months old as part of a mandatory vaccination program. CFDA called on Changsheng, China’s second largest producer of the rabies vaccine, to stop all production of the vaccine and begin a recall of unused vaccines. No one has reported any complications resulting from the substandard vaccine, yet the scandal is the latest in a long line of tainted Chinese healthcare products. This comes as President Xi Jinping is pushing China to become the leading producer of pharmaceuticals.

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Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Chinese lawyer Wang Yu (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Snapshots of China

Remembering the 709 crackdown

Chinese human rights lawyers remain in detention on the third anniversary of the ‘709 Incident’

Three years ago, on the night of July 9, human rights lawyer Wang Yu returned home after dropping off her son and husband at the airport in Beijing. Arriving at her apartment, she noticed a group of men hanging around outside. Later that night, the electricity went out, her internet connection was cut, and the men broke into the apartment and led her away in handcuffs to a secret detention center, where she endured torture and interrogations. Police released Wang a year later—only after she agreed to a televised confession.

Wang was the first of more than 300 lawyers, legal assistants, and activists detained throughout China in what is now called the 709 Incident, named after the date Wang was taken. Human rights lawyers, many of whom are professed Christians, stood up for the vulnerable in China against government policies and corporations. Seeing these lawyers as a threat to complete control, the Chinese government silenced them by placing the most prominent lawyers into “residential surveillance at a designated location.” The lawyers say they endured beatings, psychological torture, threats against family members, forced feedings of unknown drugs, and sleep deprivation while detained.

Most of the human rights lawyers have since been released on bail. Today, 17 lawyers remain imprisoned and at least a dozen have lost their licenses and can no longer practice law.

Family members of one detained lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, have not been able to speak to him since his arrest three years ago. He had defended Falun Gong religious practitioners, victims of land seizures, and political prisoners. He taught Chinese villagers about their land and legal rights, helped found the rights group Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, and worked at Beijing Fengrui law firm, where Wang Yu also worked.

Wang Quanzhang’s wife, Li Wenzu, has made dozens of freedom of information requests on her husband’s behalf. In April, on the 1,000th day of Wang’s detention, she started a 100-kilometer (62-mile) protest march from Beijing to Tianjin’s No. 2 Detention Center, where officials last said he was held. But police stopped her from completing the march and briefly placed her under house arrest. On July 13, Li said she’d finally heard from a trusted source that her husband was alive and “in reasonable mental and physical health,” according to Radio Free Asia.

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