China has prohibited buying the Bible from major online stores, whilst claiming the country promotes religious freedom.
According to widespread media reports, Amazon China and two other large online outlets have dropped the Bible from sale.
The BBC’s Chinese Service Editor Howard Zhang said it was the latest attempt by China’s communist leaders to seize greater control.
According to The Times, a new Government policy document says it “supports all religions in upholding the principle of independence and self-management”.
But then it adds that it wants believers to ultimately “serve the overall interests of the nation”.
CNN says the document states that faiths must “adapt themselves to the socialist society”.
Chinese users trying to buy the Bible through Amazon could only find study guides and the Koran, while JD.com was reportedly rebuked for selling “illegal publications”.
Taobao, China’s biggest online marketplace, returned results on “baby food bible”, but not the Christian Scriptures.
According to CNN, customers can still buy the Bible online, but only by contacting the retailers privately.
Previously the state has turned a blind eye to the sales, as officially it only allowed the Bible to be distributed and printed by state-sanctioned churches.
Bob Fu, of China Aid, said the change was symptomatic of life under “Emperor Xi” and showed religious freedom was at its worst for decades.
Amnesty International described the banning as absurd, coming so soon after the Government’s claim of support for religious freedom.
William Nee, a China researcher for the group, said: “For a government that only yesterday claimed to be supporting religious freedom, it is ridiculous that the core book of a major world religion cannot be found on the major Chinese e-commerce platforms”.
In 2017, the Chinese Government banned members of the Communist Party – over 88 million people – from holding any religious beliefs.