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China Pulls Books—Including Bibles

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    A pedestrian walks by the Apple flagship store in Beijing, China. (Sheldon Cooper/ SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
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    Apple removed Olive Tree Bible Software’s app from its App Store in China. (Olive Tree Bible Software)
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    People try out the latest iPhone at an Apple Store in Beijing. China has tightened rules for internet firms. (AP/Andy Wong)
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    Audible said in a statement that it removed its app from the Apple store in mainland China “due to permit requirements.” (Audible)
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Communist China has long sought to control how and what people read online. The Chinese government is getting even more stringent with internet enforcement. Religion is the latest sector to feel the squeeze.

Angela Zhang is an anti-monopoly expert. She describes China’s policy toward the internet as “very lax” until a few months ago. However, she says China has become “one of the most active and forceful jurisdictions in regulating the digital economy.”

With a market as large as China’s, even big companies like Apple take action. This fall, Apple removed the so-called “holy books” of Christianity and Islam from Apple’s app stores in China. The removals include popular U.S.-based Olive Tree Bible Software and other makers of reading and listening apps for both the Bible and the Quran. These books supposedly fall under a prohibitive Chinese law.

According to an Olive Tree spokesperson, the company must prove “that we are authorized to distribute an app with book or magazine content in mainland China.”

Religious services aren’t the only ones being removed. Another casualty of China’s strict new rules is Amazon’s online audiobook and podcast service, Audible. The company says it got the app store axe in China “due to permit requirements.”

A language-learning app and many video game apps, including Cars of New York and Sudoku New, vanished too. Chinese regulators have even tried limiting children’s video game playing. (See “China Changes Gaming Rules.”)

Liu Pengyu is a spokesperson for China’s U.S. embassy. He says the Chinese government has “always encouraged and supported the development of the internet.” But he continues, “At the same time, the development of the internet in China must also comply with Chinese laws and regulations.”

Olive Tree hopes to obtain the necessary permit soon. The company takes the command to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel” (Mark 16:15) seriously. It hopes to “restore our app to China’s Apple app Store and continue to distribute the Bible worldwide.”

Pakistan Data Management Services, which makes a Quran app, is also seeking the permit.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned Apple’s actions. They say the company is enabling China’s religious persecution of Muslims and others. CAIR’s national deputy director, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, wants the decision reversed.

“If American corporations don’t grow a spine and stand up to China right now,” he says, “they risk spending the next century subservient to the whims of a fascist superpower.”

Why? China’s leaders know that controlling the minds and the spirits of its people is key to holding power over those people, and the Apostle Paul warned in Ephesians 6 that the real battles in this world are against rulers, powers, and authorities that oppose God Himself.

Pray: For those truly persecuted in China and around the world.