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Bitter Winter is a daily online magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China published from May 2018 in several languages by the Italian research center CESNUR. It has been criticized in China for alleged biases based on anti-communism. Italian daily La Stampa, Italian weekly L'Espresso, Radio Free Asia and the Belgian NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers, reported that in 2018 and 2019 some of Bitter Winter's Chinese correspondents had been arrested.[1]



Bitter Winter grew out of CESNUR’s interest and academic activities around new religious movements and religious pluralism in China. CESNUR-associated scholars, including CESNUR’s managing director Massimo Introvigne were invited to China in 2017 to discuss the situation of "cults" there. [2] Plans for the magazine were disclosed by CESNUR on May 14, 2018, at the 2018 edition of the Turin International Book Fair, in an event concluding the Fair’s five-day festival devoted to religion and music.[3] The daily magazine was originally published in English only. However, in the following months, editions in Chinese, Korean, Italian, Japanese, French, German, and Spanish followed.[4]

The editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter is Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne. Italian journalist Marco Respinti serves as the director-in-charge, and there are two deputy editors, [5], Willy Fautré, the Belgian founder of the NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers, and the former Lithuanian diplomat and former chair of the European Union Working Group on Humanitarian Aid,[6], Rosita Šorytė.

Business Insider, Yeni Şafak and Radio Free Asia mentioned Bitter Winter when, in 2018 and 2019, it posted videos it claimed had been shot inside Xinjiang re-education camps[7]; parts of one of the videos were featured in the 2019 documentary by Al Jazeera, "Nowhere to Call Home."[8] Another video, on the destruction of a statue of Guanyin in Hebei on February 2, 2019, was reproduced and discussed by Taiwan News.[9] China Digital Times also reported on the magazine's coverage of Uyghur camps in Xinjiang.[10]


Bitter Winter has been welcomed as a daily source of hard-to-find information on persecuted religious groups in China by some Christian and Muslim media. Writing in the official magazine of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Macau, journalist Aurelio Porfiri called it "an invaluable resource for all these interested in religion in the country [China.]"[11] The German online Catholic magazine Katolisches also praised its richness of information.[12] The World Uyghur Congress repeatedly reprinted articles from Bitter Winter.[13]

Conservative media that routinely criticize China have also found in Bitter Winter ammunition for their campaigns. The conservative American online magazine The Federalist called Bitter Winter "supremely informative" and its editor "an authority on religion and human rights in China".[14]

Predictably, those on the opposite end of the political spectrum had a more negative reaction. In May 2018, both Katolisches and the online edition of the Italian weekly L'Espresso reported extensively on criticism of Bitter Winter by liberal Catholics and others who believed that the magazine was supporting anti-Communist campaigns against China promoted by the American administration, and was trying to torpedo the agreement between China and the Vatican then in the making. [15]

Others, however, criticized Bitter Winter for its moderate attitude about the same Vatican-China deal. of The Federalist, a staunch opponent of the deal, found it "disconcerting" that Bitter Winter believed that the Vatican might have a valid long-term strategy.[16] The Filipino daily The Manila Times, which extensively covers the Catholic Church in Eastern Asia, quoted Massimo Introvigne as "editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter" among "those who believe that the concordat would not be entirely bad for the Chinese Catholic Church".[17]

Chinese criticismEdit

Chinese authorities believe that Bitter Winter is just another tool of anti-Chinese propaganda and of those who defend groups China regards as "cults" and has banned. Bitter Winter itself published documents by the Chinese Communist Party denouncing the magazine and warning that those working for it as correspondents from China would be punished.[18] Italian daily La Stampa, Italian weekly L'Espresso, Radio Free Asia and the Belgian NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers, reported that Chinese correspondents of Bitter Winter had been arrested in July 2018.[19]



  1. ^ Human Rights Without Frontiers (2018); Vatican Insider (2018b); Magister (2018b); Mamut and Lipes (2019); Fautré (2019).
  2. ^ KKNews (2017).
  3. ^ Vatican Insider (2018a).
  4. ^ Bitter Winter (2018a).
  5. ^ Bitter Winter (2018a).
  6. ^ FOB (2018).
  7. ^ Ma (2018); Yeni Şafak (2018); Mamut and Lipes (2019).
  8. ^ Al Jazeera (2019): the video by Better Winter is between minutes 3' and 4'.
  9. ^ Everington (2019).
  10. ^ China Digital Times (2019).
  11. ^ Porfiri (2018).
  12. ^ Nardi (2018).
  13. ^ See e.g. World Uyghur Congress (2018).
  14. ^ Mullarkey (2018).
  15. ^ Nardi (2018); Magister (2018a).
  16. ^ Mullarkey (2018).
  17. ^ Tatad (2018).
  18. ^ Bitter Winter (2018b).
  19. ^ Magister (2018b); Vatican Insider (2018b); Human Rights Without Frontiers (2018).


External linksEdit