New regulations target underground churches across China

Thursday, September 22, 2016

China Aid
Reported in Chinese by Qiao Nong. Translated by Carolyn Song. Edited in English by Ava Collins.

(Beijing—Sept. 22, 2016) The State Council of the People’s Republic of China has released a draft of a new set of religious restrictions, scheduled to be officially enacted in early October. The restrictions aim to suppress all unofficial religious activities via dispersing Christian house churches, silencing Tibetan and Xinjiang separatists and undermining the Vatican’s influence on Chinese Catholics.

Authorities released the Revised Draft of Regulations on Religious Affairs (To Be Approved) to the public to gather opinion. The draft will stop accepting suggestions on Oct. 7, at which point the Council will formally bring the document into effect.

Currently the draft, based on the previous Regulations on Religious Affairs, contains nine chapters and 74 articles. Some of the proposed articles include prohibitions on “organizing citizens to attend religious trainings, conferences and activities abroad,” “preaching, organizing religious activities, and establishing religious institutions or religious sites at schools,” and “providing religious services through the internet.”

There are also articles emphasizing state security and taking precautions against secessionism, terrorism, and infiltration of foreign powers. Restrictions on “accepting teaching posts in foreign countries” and “organizing religious activities in unapproved religious sites” are meant to hinder house churches and reduce contact with organizations outside of the government-controlled Chinese churches.

Revisions to the Regulations on Religious Affairs occur approximately every ten years, with new revisions appearing in both 1995 and 2006.

“Studying the newly revised Regulations on Religious Affairs, it is evident that the Party wants to take charge of religion,” a pastor named Zhou said. “The government wants to control everything, even the smallest aspects. One characteristic of this draft is the empowerment of local government bodies all the way down to the communities. This revision will further reduce the possibility of loosening religious control in China. It is becoming impossible.”

Gao Baosheng, the pastor of a U.S.-based Chinese church, wrote an article on the new revisions, titled, “The Alarming Changes in the Revised Draft of Regulations on Religious Freedom,” in which he stated: “We can see that the government is clenching tighter and tighter on Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism and Islam. The laws are becoming more and more specific and detailed when suppressing Christian family churches [Editor’s note: “Family church” is another way of translating the word “house church.”], Catholicism, and all other underground religions. The revisions provide a powerful legal base for future suppression. The conditions of religious freedom in China are worsened for them. This draft will bring upon a religious winter so harsh that we must seek guidance from God.”

Gao also said he believes the government “seeking public opinion” is nothing more than formality.

“Overall,” Gao said, “the Revised Draft of Regulations on Religious Affairs is Xi Jinping’s attempt to further manage and suppress religions by taking advantage of the laws. By observing these changes in the Draft, we can tell that the government is imposing more control on major religions.”

China Aid reports on instances of religious freedom abuse and persecution, such as the increased restrictions on religious activity outlined in the new draft of the Regulations on Religious Affairs.

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