China’s National Security Law and implications for religious freedom

Friday, July 10, 2015

China Aid

(Midland, Texas—July 10, 2015) Last week China’s National People’s Congress issued a national security law, which has been widely criticized for being intentionally vague and as a potential pretext to increasing restrictions on civil and political rights in China and to justify and perhaps enhance harassment of human rights lawyers, dissidents, and others perceived as a threat to the Chinese government.

Article 27 of the new national security law defines guidelines for “religious belief and regular religious activities,” stating that the Chinese government will engage in “preventing, stopping and lawfully punishing the exploitation of religion's name to conduct illegal and criminal activities that endanger national security, and opposes foreign influences interference with domestic religious affairs, maintaining normal order of religious activities.”

The cover of China’s National Security Law.
(Photo: Wikipedia)
The implications of the intent to “oppose” so-called “foreign influences” remains to be seen under this new context of a national security law in China, though many religious freedom and human rights advocates both within and outside of China are expecting greater restrictions on the freedom of religion and an increase in related human rights violations.

Article 27 also emphasizes restrictions on religious communities that are deemed “cults” by the Chinese government: “The State shuts down cult organizations in accordance with law, preventing, stopping, lawfully punishing and correcting illegal and criminal cult activities.”

China Aid has previously reported on the Chinese government’s “anti-cult” campaign as a guise to persecute Christian, Falun Gong, and other religious communities, including manipulating state-run media to publicly demonize these so-called “cults.” In fact, according to data compiled by China Aid in 2014, tens of thousands of religious practitioners have been taken into police custody for their involvement in “cults,” and over 1,000 have been convicted on criminal charges. China Aid’s 2014 annual report noted further that “A large number of ‘anti-cult’ trials were conducted in secret, and many of those accused were not permitted to hire legal counsel and were forced to accept government-appointed lawyers. The Chinese government has also intimidated and pressured family members of those accused of so-called cult activities to not raise their legal cases and incidents of persecution publicly, thus many remain unknown.”

To be sure, the Chinese government has historically used similar laws within various government agencies to suppress freedom of religion and justify related human rights abuses, though the laws included in the national security law may trigger a heightened level of persecution and abuse based on perceived threats to national security.

Religious freedom advocates are also concerned with the law’s expansion of China’s restrictions on religion beyond the border of mainland China, namely into Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.

Specifically, Article 11 states that, “enterprises, public institutions and other social organizations, all have the responsibility and obligation to preserve national security,” and that “ Preservation of national sovereignty and territorial integrity is a shared obligation of all the Chinese people, including compatriots from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.”

Thus, it appears that Article 11 defines citizens of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan as all subject to the provisions of the national security law, which has led some Hong Kong-based Christian leaders to express their fear that they might be penalized for serving mainland Christians via the Internet or while hosting mainland Chinese staying in Hong Kong for religious purposes.

For example, on July 1, Hong Kong Pastor Wu Xiaohe was summoned by the Religious Affairs Bureau in Futian District, Shenzhen, China and received a notice demanding that he cease recruiting mainland Chinese Christian leaders to travel to Hong Kong for training through a website registered in Hong Kong. Interestingly, the Chinese government demanded that Pastor Wu stop these activities on exactly on the same day that the national security law was enacted.

In an interview with China Aid, Pastor Wu explained that he believed that if he continued to train and host Christians from mainland China that he and his colleagues would be subject to penalties and potentially arrested while traveling or working in China. Pastor Wu also stated that Chinese government officials informed him that he was only the second case and that there would be at least 300 more religious leaders that would be “dealt with.”

Pastor Wu stated that he believed that the combination of two specific articles (Articles 11 and 27) found in the national security law would negatively affect religious freedom in Hong Kong, which would become worse over time. Wu sited another example, stating that preaching to students from mainland China could also be deemed illegal, which would encapsulate 75 percent of Hong Kong pastors who regularly offer services to Chinese students living in Hong Kong.

Pastor Wu and others worry that eventually China’s Religious Affairs Bureau may even attempt to open a branch in Hong Kong and, as a result, are attempting to raise awareness of the new national security law among Hong Kong religious leaders and the international community in an effort to protect religious freedom in Hong Kong and other affected regions.

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985