News / Asia

US Religious Groups Concerned About Internet Censorship

US Religious Groups Concerned About Internet Censorshipi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
June 25, 2014 1:16 AM
Years ago, Falun Gong practitioners began developing technology to circumvent Beijing's Internet restrictions, and now a coalition of faith-based organizations are pushing U.S. lawmakers to fund Internet freedom campaigns in the name of religious freedom. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky has more.
VIDEO: Years ago, Falun Gong practitioners began developing technology to circumvent Beijing's Internet restrictions, and now a coalition of faith-based organizations are pushing U.S. lawmakers to fund Internet freedom campaigns in the name of religious freedom. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky has more.

Related Articles

Russia Asks Twitter to Block a Dozen Accounts

Request made by the head of communications watchdog Roskomnadzor who said accounts deemed 'extremist'
Falun Gong, a spiritual movement with Buddhist and Daoist influences, has been banned in China since 1999.

About a decade ago, however, its practitioners began developing technology to circumvent the Communist government’s Internet restrictions, commonly known as the Great Firewall, a censorship and surveillance project operated by Beijing's Ministry of Public Security.

“The initial purpose was to [circulate] free information regarding Falun Gong,” said software engineer John Yu, recalling the early stages of the project, which developed into a series of software programs known as Dynaweb.

Operated from a secret location, Dynaweb now allows a multitude of users in China, Iran and other repressive countries to surf the web anonymously.

According to Yu, who is no longer involved in Dynaweb, Falun Gong viewed its development as a moral imperative in a world where so many commercial software firms sought only to avoid upsetting China’s censors.

“They don’t have the motive to do things like [circulate free information],” Yu said. “They do the opposite, and they make a lot of money.”

Falun Gong is now one of an assortment of religious groups that see Internet freedom as vital to religious freedom.

In a letter to the U.S. Congress last year, a coalition of groups including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, along with the Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism, said U.S. government-funded broadcasters should devote more of their budget to developing anti-censorship software.

“Today’s Internet firewall systems are 21st century equivalents of the brick and barbed wire Berlin Walls of the 20th century,” the letter said.

Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG, which oversees Voice of America and other government-funded international broadcasters, said the agency now obligates $25.5 million to Internet freedom efforts.

She conceded, however, that the BBG “had to make some difficult decisions,” including cuts to production and transmission of content, to meet the funding obligation.

Barrett Duke of the Ethics and Religious Liberty commission said some U.S. religious groups are looking for ways to proselytize internationally via the Internet, and welcome the U.S. government efforts.

“I have no doubt that there are some people who will see that there’s a way to use that greater freedom to do that,” he said, adding that online evangelization requires an initial interest on part of the user.

“Even if you put information out on the Internet, people still have to access it,” he said. “It isn’t as though it gets to them without them seeking it out.”

Pastor Zhang Boli of Washington Harvest Chinese Christian Church in northern Virginia says his videos are often accessed by Christians in China using Falun Gong’s software. Christianity has been growing rapidly in China, he says, and censorship keeps converts from learning about their newfound faith.

“Many of the pastors in China say they’re not very well educated about Christianity,” he said. “So people are always getting the wrong information. If the Internet block could be released, it would be very, very helpful for people to learn about the real Christianity.”

Brian Grim of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation says faith groups operating overseas should be careful about supporting government anti-censorship efforts.

“For a policy to try and circumvent Internet controls sounds almost like spying, so I think in many countries that would be perceived with some bit of skepticism if not alarm,” he said.

But religious movements have a huge stake in how the Internet is run, he adds, because it is increasingly where people go to share their faith.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Wangchuk from: NY
June 27, 2014 11:58 AM
The CCP's ban on falun gong and so-called house churches or to appoint Catholic bishops is without basis in law or the PRC Constitution. The CCP has no authority to simply ban an entire religion or belief system or to imprison someone simply b/c of their beliefs. It's a direct violation of the PRC Constitution & int'l law.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More