ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: September 11, 2017 06:40 AM GMT
Chinese Christians attend Christmas Eve Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing, on December 24, 2016. (Photo by/AFP)
China’s Premier, Li Keqiang, signed off on revised religious regulations which will lead to greater government control of religions in the communist-run country.
The State Administration for Religious Affairs announced on September 7 that Li signed the State Council order for the newly revised Regulations for Religious Affairs (RRA) which will be implemented on February 1, 2018.
Introduced at the end of 2014, the draft bill was finally passed by the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council on June 14.
The People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party’s central committee, reported on the RRA’s release on its front page.
The report said the RRA was formally implemented in 2005 with the aim to promote the process of legalization of religious work in the protection of citizens’ right to freedom of religious belief, and managing religious affairs according to the law.
The report pointed out that due to rapid changes, internationally and domestically, new circumstances have surfaced in the religious field.
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party in 2012, the Party’s central committee has attached great importance to religious work, emphasizing management according to law.
The People's Daily said that the RRA was needed in light of the National Conference for Religious Work in 2016, where Chinese President, Xi Jinping, emphasized the need to improve management of religious affairs according to the law and to make the management of religious affairs more effective.
The draft was introduced for a month-long public consultation last September. The revised RRA has been signed off just before the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party to be held in October.
Intensive training to prepare religious officials for the amendment has taken place since early this year.
According to Hong Kong's pro-Beijing daily Wenweipo, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, said in January in an internal meeting that, "The amendment focused on resolving issues related to national security and has strong requirements from the religious sector."
Observers believe that Wang meant the amendment is to reinforce the Communist Party's control over religions, minorities and any potential sources of "social disruption."
Focus of amendments
A spokesperson for the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council said in a statement that the amendments mainly focuses on "two safeguards", "two clarifications" and "two norms".
"Two safeguards" refers to protecting the religious freedom of citizens and the legitimate rights and interests of the religious community, and to safeguard national security and social harmony.
"Two clarifications" is to explain the legal liability of religious venues and religious property rights, and to be clear on curbing the tendencies of religious commercialization.
"Two norms" refers to financial management regulation of religious circles and the regulation of religious information services on the internet.
Written with nearly 10,000 Chinese characters, the revised regulation includes chapters on general legal provisions, religious bodies, sites for religious activities, religious personnel, religious property, legal liability, religious activities, supplementary provisions and two new chapters on an institute for religious education.
This set of amendments has introduced 29 new articles, an increase from 48 to 77.