CANOE -- CNEWS - World: Bibles will be allowed at Beijing Olympics
Outraged Beijing Olympic organizers sought to refute allegations of religious intolerance Thursday, saying Bibles and other religious items for personal use are welcome at next year's Beijing Olympics.
That latitude, however, does not extend to the Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned eight years ago as an "evil cult" and persecuted mercilessly ever since.
Recent reports by a religious news agency and European media that Bibles would be banned at the Olympics touched off an outcry that prompted a U.S. senator to call the Chinese ambassador for an explanation and a Christian athletes group to protest the "deep violation."
Angry Beijing organizers flatly denied the reports, while the Foreign Ministry said they were likely the work of people who wanted to sabotage Beijing's hosting of the Games.
"There is no such thing. This kind of report is an intentional distortion of truth (oh, there's an interesting turn of phrase - 1rt)," said Li Zhanjun, director of the Beijing Olympics media centre. Li said texts and items from major religious groups that are brought for personal use by athletes and visitors are permitted.
The U.S. State Department said in a report earlier this year that Beijing continues to repress Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs and the Falun Gong while expelling foreign missionaries.
Bibles are printed under government supervision and allowed to be sold only in approved churches, according to a document posted on the website of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
Foreign visitors can bring religious texts for personal use, and are limited to three copies of each kind of text, said an official at the administration's regulation department, who refused to give his name.
The reports in the Catholic News Agency and European media about the Bible ban - which said Bibles were on a list of "prohibited objects" in the Olympic Village - prompted U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, to telephone the Chinese ambassador for an explanation.
"If true, it would be outrageous act of censorship that would be rejected and condemned by the entire international community and people of all religions," the senator said in a statement. "There is no value needed more in the world at this critical time in human history than religious tolerance."
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