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China halts a shipment of Bibles from U.S. group

August 18, 2008|Mark Magnier | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — An American Christian group that was stopped at the airport when it tried to bring in more than 300 Bibles won't leave the customs zone until it gets the books back, its leader said today.

The four Americans, led by Pat Klein of the Wyoming-based Vision Beyond Borders, said they were convinced officials wanted them to leave the Kunming airport in southern China without the Bibles, preventing their distribution.

"We paid a lot to come here and bring them," Klein said in a telephone interview from the customs area, where the four have been since Sunday. "We're not bringing in contraband, drugs, evil stuff. We're just bringing in Bibles."

Klein said the Mandarin-language Bibles were printed in Indonesia, transferred to Thailand and flown to Kunming in duffel bags. They paid more than $350 in excess luggage fees in addition to the $200 per person for Chinese visas, plus their tickets.

China is hosting the Olympics through Aug. 24, which has intensified the global spotlight on the country's suppression of religious freedom and violation of human rights. The Chinese say they have printed 50 million Bibles in the last 32 years and are producing 800,000 a month for domestic consumption, but Klein said his Christian contacts can't get their hands on Bibles -- hence his trip.

The officially atheist Communist Party only allows Bibles to be printed under its own supervision for use in state-sanctioned churches and some hotels. Klein said he asked authorities to show him the law in English against bringing in Bibles, only to be brought a vaguely worded postal regulation prohibiting material harmful to China.

"This is ridiculous," Klein said. "The Bible doesn't speak against any of that. . . . They even admitted the Bible was a good book."

Chinese authorities have asked them to apply for a permit, but Klein characterized this as a diversion. Officials at the Religious Affairs Administration could not be reached for comment.

The four said they slept on couches in the customs zone Sunday night, but the lights were on all night and officials kept coming in to question and videotape them and urge them to leave their work space. Chinese authorities told group members they could each keep one Bible for personal use. One of their members was permitted this morning to go buy some food.

The Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. In reality, worship is heavily regulated by a regime wary of political challenge. People who worship outside official institutions face harassment, arrest and years in labor camps.

Klein said the group doesn't want to create problems and will leave China if authorities reimburse their costs.

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

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