Beijing bans online religious activities without government go-ahead

New measures have been published and will come into force on March 1, 2022. The rules apply to masses, sermons, formation and all religious information services. This is the "democratic" control of religions sought by Xi. Bans have been imposed on Christmas celebrations, a "western" threat to Chinese culture.

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It will no longer be possible to conduct religious activities online without government authorisation in China, according to an announcement yesterday from the State Administration of Religious Affairs.

The body which comes under China State Council – the central government – announced that on December 3 it had approved “Administrative measures for religious information services on the internet”. Adopted in conjunction with the State Ministry of Security and other ministries, the new rules will come into force on 1 March 2022.

The new clampdown on religious freedom reflects Xi Jinping’s directives. During the working sessions  of a national religious conference held in early December, the Chinese president and general secretary of the Communist Party (CCP) announced his intention to improve “democratic” control over religions. In other words, to tighten religious repression by the regime.

Xi made it clear that religions must adapt to the fact that China is a socialist country. According to the supreme leader, the “core” of the CCP, the masses of believers must unite around the Party and the government, and reject all foreign influence.

Organisations and individuals wishing to provide religious information online must apply to the provincial Department of Religious Affairs. Sermons, homilies, ceremonies and formation activities run by religious bodies, monasteries, churches and individuals may be broadcast online only after obtaining a special licence.

It has also been established that no organisation or individual can fundraise “in the name of religion” on the internet. Online religious activity is also forbidden for foreign organisations present in China.

According to the new rules, religious information on the web must not “incite subversion of state power, oppose Party leadership, undermine the socialist system, national unity and social stability”. Nor should it “promote extremism, terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious fanaticism”. Initiatives aimed at young people are also targeted: online communications must not “induce minors to become religious, organise them or force them to participate in religious activities”.

The regime’s aim is to further promote the “sinicisation” of religion, a process officially launched in 2015.

In February, the State Administration for Religious Affairs had made public the ‘Administrative Measures for Religious Personnel’, a document on the management of clergy, monks, priests, bishops, etc., which was published by the government.

In February 2018, the Party had adopted “New Regulations on Religious Activities”, according to which religious personnel can only carry out their functions if they adhere to “official” bodies and submit to the CCP.

As for the Catholic Church, the signing in 2018, and renewal in October 2020, of the Sino-Vatican Agreement on the appointment of bishops has not stopped the persecution of its members, especially the unofficial ones.

Not even the Christmas celebrations have been spared. According to AsiaNews, authorities in Rong’an County (Guangxi) have banned Christmas celebrations in local schools. The official reason is that as a “Western holiday”, Christmas is a threat to Chinese national culture. The proliferation in recent years of events related to ‘Silent Night’, the Chinese term for Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day is seen by the regime as an aggression against Chinese culture. Teachers and Party members are asked to work to uphold Chinese tradition, while all citizens are asked to report cases of Christmas celebrations to the police.