The coronavirus pandemic is bringing out the best in some and the worst in others, and one of the bad things that it’s brought out in various parts of the world is more censorship.
In China, where the disease originated, a previous ban on online congregation of Christians in that country continued to apply even after religious services in physical spaces also got prohibited as a measure to slow down the spread of the virus.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is behind this campaign to block online gatherings of believers, with the party’s local offices previously announcing a ban on live streaming of church services.
An attempt of Christians in Shandong province to gather online was stopped on February 9 only 20 minutes into the stream, and as a pastor from what is said to be “an unofficial house church” said, could not be resumed.
Those attempting to broadcast audio using the Chinese giant platform WeChat received a similar order to stop immediately.
However, the ban is not new, or linked to the coronavirus outbreak per se – although it is particularly jarring now that physical gatherings of groups of people are not allowed.
The Chinese authority for religious affairs prohibited online broadcasts of religious activities in 2018, explaining that the ban applies to organizations and individuals and covers pretty much everything believers might be doing during religious rituals: praying, serving mass, receiving baptism, etc.
According to Bitter Winter, people of faith are particularly monitored on the internet in China, which is otherwise notorious for its comprehensive and efficient system of online censorship.
And while many parts of the world are still facing full-blown coronavirus crises, China is presenting itself as having gotten the situation under control enough to start returning life to normal – but not for religious people.
As one believer from Henan told the magazine, the Chinese government is eager to see factories and other facilities reopened and this is starting to happen, however, religious gatherings continue to be prohibited.
“Religious meetings are forbidden, and all channels of religious communication are blocked,” said this believer, who is a member of the Three-Self Church.