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China launches database of Christian, Muslim clergy

Rights group alleges the online system is a tool to assert more control over religions by the Chinese Communist Party
The Chinese government has launched an online database for clerics of organized religions

The Chinese government has launched an online database for clerics of organized religions. (Photo: AFP) 

Published: May 24, 2023 11:39 AM GMT
Updated: May 24, 2023 11:48 AM GMT

China’s communist government has launched an online database and verification system for Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant clerics, which the authorities claim seeks to tackle acts of fraudulence by ‘fake clerics.’  

The system consisting of an online database with vital information on the clergy was launched on May 23, the Vatican’s Fides news agency reported.

A similar database has been launched for Buddhist and Taoist clergy (monks) in February.

The government says the database is the official register of religious figures from religious communities. It can be accessed by citizens to verify the identity and position of the registered individuals.

It contains seven types of information including name, gender, photos, religious title, religious denomination, and registration number.

Fides reported that the database can be updated from time to time by state-sanctioned religious bodies such as the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and Islamic Association of China, and the State Administration of Religious Affairs, the apex body of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tasked to oversee religious affairs.  

State-run Xinhua news agency reported this new online database is a useful tool for "maintaining normal religious order, safeguarding healthy transmission" of religious content.

It would also help Chinese believers of different faith communities to identify “fake” monks, imams, priests, pastors, and bishops, "thereby protecting the public interest and the legitimate rights and interests of citizens,” it reported.

The agency claimed that recently there have been several cases involving fake monks who allegedly attempted to make financial gains by fraudulency.

In doing so, the perpetrators have "seriously discredited the image of the religious community, while disturbing public order, damaging the health, economic resources and property of citizens, with an extremely negative social impact," it added.

Rights groups, such as US-based ChinaAid, expressed concerns that the move is another attempt to assert more control over religions and religious groups in China.

The communist and officially atheist state legally recognizes five organized religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

The government strictly controls organized religions with seven state-run bodies and requires all religious clergy to register with those bodies and institutes run by religious groups to obtain government permission and pledge to follow the socialist policies of the CCP. Unrecognized religions including cult movements such as Falun Gong and the Church of Almighty God are brutally persecuted.

Chinese authorities launched a renewed crackdown on unrecognized religious groups and unregistered clergy and religious organization including Christians after it adopted a new set of rules for religious affairs, sparking an outcry from rights groups.

Hundreds of churches have since been shut and dozens of Christians belonging to house churches have been arrested and jailed.

The crackdown also saw Catholic schools and orphanages raided and closed after the authorities accused them of “indoctrinating” children with religion “illegally.”

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