No country in the world jails more journalists than China, and the communist regime continued its crackdown this week, imprisoning former state media reporter Chen Jieren for daring to speak out against the government’s corruption.
Chen was first detained in mid-2018, according to CNN, after he published two articles on his personal blog, revealing corrupt dealings by Hunan party officials. The government, though, sees his actions differently.
On Thursday, the intrepid reporter was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The restrictive regime also charged Chen with extortion, blackmail, and bribery — all trumped-up charges to “punish him for his political speech on WeChat and other social media platforms,” argued the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of Chinese and international NGOs.
The court, however, said Chen “attacked and vilified the Communist Party and government” by writing “false information” and “malicious speculation.”
According to Reporters Without Borders, an international organization advocating press freedom, the Chinese government keeps a white-knuckle grip on journalists, strictly policing resident reporters as well as those from foreign outlets via its Great Firewall, the regime’s online censorship apparatus.
In a statement, the CHRD said Chen’s sentencing “sends a chilling signal to online independent commentators and citizen journalists.”
Why it matters
For Christians, this issue is particularly important. While it’s difficult for those of us in the West to fully comprehend the kind of censorship taking place in China, it’s critical we do all in our power to fight against it.
Freedom of speech is important for a myriad of reasons, but there are five critical factors to keep in mind. Press and speech freedoms are necessary to keep abuse of power by the government at bay, to ensure our leaders are fairly selected by us, to protect our rights and the rights of others, to guarantee the freedom to speak openly about our faith, and to make sure people are free to decide for themselves what they believe.
All of those factors are wrapped up in the repeated promise of free will throughout Scripture. In Galatians 5:13, the apostle Paul wrote, “You, brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Paul was making the case that, in salvation, we have been set free from our sin, at liberty to choose to serve God and others rather than giving in to our fleeting desires. That principle is foundational to the entire Gospel message.
Jonathan Leeman, a popular Christian blogger and pastor in Cheverly, Maryland, has argued God explicitly commissioned government to execute one task: to serve as the “justice mechanism.” To make his case, Leeman pointed to Genesis 9:5, which states, in part, “I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.”
That doesn’t mean that’s the government’s only role. For example, if we collectively agree, the government can take on the task, as stated in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, of “promot[ing] the general welfare.” But as believers, we have to be wary of what Leeman described as government’s “greatest temptation” — its inclination to play God.
Chinese leaders have time and again fallen into that trap. In its attempt to play God, the communist regime has stripped Chen of his innate human liberties.
Leeman pointed to Psalm 2, in which David asked, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed. … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.”
Just like individuals are prone to sin, so are governments.
“It is futile to play God — but governments try to do it anyway,” said Leeman. “For a government to ‘play God’ is to pressure its citizens into idolatry.”
Protecting the right to free speech and a free press is paramount to keeping citizens from turning government leaders into false gods and to ensuring human liberty, a stalwart principle of biblical Christianity.