Explained: New CCP regulations on religious internet content

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The State Administration for Religious Affair's release for the new Administrative Measures
(Photo: ChinaAid source)

(China—January 6, 2022) State Administration for Religious Affairs released the Administrative measures for Internet Religious Information Services (hereinafter referred to as the “measures”).


The measures, which will come into effect on March 1, 2022, were jointly formulated by five departments - the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of National Security. The measures were written in compliance with the “Cybersecurity Law of the People's Republic of China,” “Administrative Measures for Internet Information Services,” and the revised “Regulations on Religious Affairs.” The legislation prohibits individuals or organizations from uploading and teaching on the Internet, nor does it allow the publishing or reposting of sermons online.


The purposes for the administrative measures are to “adhere to the unity of safeguarding citizens’ freedom of religious beliefs and safeguarding national ideological security,” and to “adhere to the protection of religious citizens’ legitimate rights and interests with the practice of core socialist values.” The regulation also “insists on standardizing online religious information services and advancing the healthy inheritance of religions; insists on the unity of rights and duties, and to embody the protection of legitimate rights and interests, hinder illegal acts, curb religious extremism, resist religious infiltration, and fight crime.”


The measures have a total of five chapters and thirty-six articles, which state that those who wish to participate in Internet religious information services should apply to the provincial departments of religious affairs and stipulate requirements on licenses, application materials, username, and the time limit for acceptance. Online teaching of scriptures and preaching should be organized and carried out by religious groups, religious schools, temples, and churches that have obtained the “Internet Religious Information Service License.”


Article 17 stipulates that any organization or individual cannot upload teachings on the Internet, conduct religious education and training, publish teaching and preaching content, or forward related content. No organization or individual may organize and carry out religious activities on the Internet and may not broadcast or record religious activities.


No organization or individual may conduct fundraising in the name of religion on the Internet. Religious activities such as worshiping Buddha, burning incense, ordinations, chanting religious texts, services, masses, and baptisms are not allowed to be broadcast live or recorded by means of text, pictures, audio, and video.


The regulation also strictly prohibits any organization or individual from establishing religious groups, religious schools, venues for religious activities, or recruiting believers.


Article 19 states that organizations and individuals must not raise funds in the name of religion on the internet.


Article 33 states that when the measures are violated, it constitutes an act of violating the administration of public security, and public security administrative penalties shall be imposed per the law.


Since the outbreak of COVID in Wuhan, China, authorities forced Christian faith groups, in particular, to halt church gatherings, forcing them to meet online. The Chinese government issued a law that explicitly prohibits Christians (including other faith groups) from publishing online religious information.


An elder of a house church in Shandong said: “The authorities first used the pandemic to force many churches from offline to online. Now they continue to keep the momentum going and persecute churches by deeming the online gatherings as illegal.”


The Chinese authorities’ ban on online gatherings and the prohibition of Christians from posting religious information on the Internet is tantamount to a total ban on religious activities.


Even if religious organizations or individuals can apply for Internet Religious Information Services, the administrative measures require approval from the provincial religious affairs departments. Observers familiar with China’s harsh political environment predict that the success rate of religious groups applying for online religious services will be severely low, and authorities will strictly filter all religious information.


The state of religious freedom in China has deteriorated after the implementation of the revised “Regulations on Religious Affairs” on February 1, 2018 (prohibiting “unauthorized” religious doctrines and requiring religious groups to report any online activities). The Chinese government continues to persecute all believers, to “sinicize” religious beliefs (aligning with the Chinese Communist Party’s beliefs), and to eliminate independent religious beliefs.


Article 36 of China’s Constitution guarantees citizens the “right to freedom of religious belief” and stipulates that the government protects “normal religious activities.” However, this freedom is restricted due to various religious regulations and administrative measures adopted by the authorities. The power to interpret the clauses concerning religious freedom in the constitution is entirely in the hands of the administrative departments. The Chinese government widely uses these regulations and administrative measures as a basis for persecuting religious groups. The constitution also prohibits religious bodies and religious affairs that are subject to any foreign domination, which is used to suppress the Uyghurs and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and other religious groups.


~Gao Zhensai, ChinaAid Special Correspondent


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