Apple activates China’s War on Faith on its App Store
Last week, it was reported that a Bible app and a Quran app had been removed from Apple’s App Store in China following pressure from the Chinese government. This is not surprising behavior on the part of the Chinese Communist Party. But now an American company has been enlisted to do its dirty work.
The Apple Censorship watch group was the first to report that the apps, Bible App by Olive Tree and Quran Majeed, had been removed. When Apple removed the Quran app, the app’s creators learned that it contained illegal content in China. China’s restrictions on religious texts have affected those of all faiths, sometimes brutally. In Xinjiang, Uyghur Muslims caught with religious content on their phones can be held without trial in an internment camp.
The leaders of Olive Tree themselves have removed the Bible application. “Olive Tree Bible Software was advised during the App Store review process that we are required to provide a license demonstrating our authorization to distribute an app with book or magazine content in Mainland China,” said a spokesperson for BBC News. “Because we didn’t have the license and needed to get our app update approved and distributed to customers, we removed our Bible app from the Chinese App Store.” They finally hope to be able to recover the application from the App Store.
This seems unlikely, as the Chinese government has tightened restrictions limiting Chinese citizens’ access to the Bible as a whole. Physical copies of the Bible can no longer be purchased online in China, Christian businessmen prosecuted for selling audio Bibles online, and the Chinese Communist Party announced it is developing its own version of the Bible who would adopt socialist values.
The Chinese government’s crackdown on citizens’ access to religious texts continues. With Apple’s removal of the Quran app and Olive Tree’s self-censorship, pressure from the Chinese government is now forcing US companies to censor for them.
It comes at a time when online freedom of expression is under attack around the world. Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom of the Net report found that “[m]More than ever, governments have arrested users for nonviolent political, social or religious speech. “And for the seventh year in a row, China has the worst conditions for internet freedom. Instead of allowing this problem, the American companies like Apple should promote freedom of speech abroad, including religious expression.
Although American companies regularly advocate for progressive policies at home, they often neglect to take firm positions against authoritarian regimes abroad. Last November, Apple went so far as to push to weaken the Uyghur law on the prevention of forced labor., a bill that would prevent products made using forced labor by Uyghur Muslims from entering the United States. Apple appears to be putting profits ahead of human rights, whether it’s cutting religious apps at the behest of the Chinese government or taking advantage of modern slavery in China.
Last month, Apple and Google removed a Russian political opposition app from their app stores after Russian censors demanded it. These acts of cowardice are troubling. Do American companies really want to take on the role of censors for regimes hating freedom?
Apple and other U.S. companies need to beef up and stand up to authoritarian regimes bent on exercising control at the expense of fundamental freedoms such as free speech and religious freedom. They need to do a better job fending off the Chinese government and other bad actors. Otherwise, they will become complicit in the facilitation of human rights violations against people around the world. American businesses can do better, and American customers should demand that they do it.
This analysis was originally published by the Family Research Council. Arielle Del Turco is Deputy Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council.