BEIJING - A group of American Christians who had more than 300 Bibles confiscated by Chinese customs officials said they got them back when they returned to the airport Wednesday to leave the country.
Members of Vision Beyond Borders had refused to leave the airport in the southwestern city of Kunming for 26 hours after arriving on Sunday, but finally left after realizing that the communist authorities would not relent.
The group said Monday that the U.S. Embassy told them the Chinese would abide by a law that forbids bringing religious products into the communist nation for more than personal use.
Officials gave back the group's 315 Bibles when they returned to Kunming airport Wednesday, then escorted them to immigration, group representative Pat Klein told The Associated Press by telephone from the airport.
"They were nice, but you could tell they wanted us to leave," Klein said.
He said the group had planned to distribute the Chinese-language Bibles to Christian contacts in China.
China's officially atheistic government prohibits proselytizing and is worried that if the spread of religion goes unchecked, believers might ultimately challenge the Communist Party's authority.
The Sheridan, Wyoming-based group distributes Bibles and Christian teaching materials around the world.
China faces routine criticism for human rights violations and repression of religious freedom.
Religious practice is heavily regulated, with worship allowed only in party-controlled churches, temples and mosques, while those gathering outside risk harassment, arrest and terms in labor camps or prison.
In China, Bibles are printed at just one plant, run by a government-backed Christian association for use in officially sanctioned churches. Though they can be purchased in some bookstores, they're hard to find.
A fax from the customs officials in Kunming to the AP earlier this week said that foreigners can only bring in one to three copies of religious products for personal use. For more than that, a letter of authority must be obtained from the religious affairs office. The policy was explained to the Americans, the fax said.
The Vision Beyond Borders group were leaving China for Thailand.
Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.