MASSIMO INTROVIGNE | BITTER WINTER

In this holy day, we keep in our hearts all our readers, and all those suffering in China, including our imprisoned reporters.

Christmas is about joy, but one six-year-old girl in London had a different experience when she bought Christmas cards she planned to write to her friends in a shop near her home. The cards had been manufactured in China, but she found inside one of them a message written by foreign prisoners detained in Shanghai Qingpu prison and “forced to work against their will.” The girl and her family believed it was a prank, but the message mentioned Peter Humphrey, a British journalist who had been detained in the same prison. He was contacted by the family and pronounced the message authentic, confirming that slave labor is indeed a common occurrence in Qingpu prison. The scandal erupted quickly in the British media, and the card company had to withdraw the cards from the market and suspend production in China.

Unfortunately, it is not only about Qingpu prison. Slave labor is the rule in Chinese jails and concentration camps. I wrote recently in Our World magazine about a member of The Church of Almighty God, Liu Jixia, who died for the consequences of exhaustion and malnutrition after having spent eighteen months in the Ji’nan “re-education through labor” camp, where she was sent as a member of a banned religious movement. There, she was compelled to make toy horses, some of them no doubt sold in the West for Christmas. She had to work for 17 hours every day, then for 20 hours when production needed to be increased. The camp diet was very poor, consisting only of cornmeal and pickles.

After a few months, Liu developed a severe case of nephritis, due to overwork and malnutrition. She reported to the camp’s medical personnel but was told she was not sick enough to stop working, and toy horses needed to be produced. When she was released in 2009, her nephritis had become chronic, and she finally died at the First People’s Hospital in Linqing, Shandong on August 20, 2012.

Millions are still detained in jails, labor camps, and transformation through education camps because of their faith—all faiths, although The Church of Almighty God remains the single most persecuted religious movement: Uyghurs and other Muslims, practitioners of Falun Gong, members of Christian house churches, dissident Catholics, Tibetan and other Buddhists.

While we wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers – we are sure non-Christians will also appreciate the season’s greetings as well –, our heart is with our Chinese reporters who went to jail for the “crime” of sending news, videos, and pictures to Bitter Winter.

We do not always publish information about where and when our reporters are arrested and detained, as sometimes this may further jeopardize their security and make their situation worse. But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still considers Bitter Winter, as a journalist recently wrote, “a thorn in its side,” and no effort is spared to prevent news and documents from being sent to us from China.

We know that twenty of our reporters are still in jail, although of some we do not know the whereabouts. Our Christmas is for them. Wherever they are, these brave warriors for truth and liberty may rest assured they are not alone this Christmas.

We hope we are not alone either. Bitter Winter has tens of thousands of regular readers. They tell us often they love us and pray for us. This is very important. But you would have noticed that earlier this year we had to discontinue three of our foreign editions (German, French, and Japanese). Although many volunteers work for Bitter Winter for free, some translators are paid and we were simply not able to afford the heavy translation costs for these languages. Simply put, the donations we received were not enough. We still keep five editions in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Italian, but translations and other costs continue to make our life difficult.

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