The logo of WeChat, a popular Chinese multi-purpose application for messaging, social media and mobile payments. The Chinese government is accused of tightening surveillance of such applications.
The Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission has launched a campaign across China to crack down on what it considers "the illegal activities" of commercial websites and media outlets.Although the campaign claims to target commercial web platforms, websites and social media accounts managed by church people have also been affected by the move.Father Paul, who is responsible for the WeChat public account of a diocese in northern China, said officials asked him to delete certain content.They said the content violated the provisions of the Regulations on the Administration of Religious Information Services on the Internet that came to effect in March, the priest said.The officials also asked him not to publish religious content and delete what had been already published. They also urged him to pay "attention to public opinion on the internet" and "not to give the foreign media an excuse to attack the government."
Father Zhao, another priest from northern China, said authorities started monitoring the Church's social network when churches were closed early this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.During those days he was asked to stop the livestreaming of Masses for his parishioners. Officials said the regulations do not allow people "to disseminate religious beliefs via the internet, especially on livestreaming platforms," Father Zhao said.He said authorities were worried that priests might criticize the government online. Besides, they also thought online Masses could attract many people to the Church, weakening the communist party, he said."They do not have the confidence and the courage to face reality. They can only suppress others and rely on violence to solve problems. This is a tyranny of dictatorship,” he said.Father Peter, a priest in the northeast, said he was also asked to stop livestreaming Masses during the pandemic. Officials said would block the church if they did not impose the rule banning the broadcasting of religious content.Father Peter said the regulations themselves are "illegal because they suppress the Church and violate the freedom of faith and speech."The surveillance includes even ordinary Christians, not just priests. For example, a Catholic woman said she was on a WeChat group in the morning but was blocked in the afternoon accused of violating the rules. She said her "violation" was that she shared Bible verses with fellow Christians."The government has repeatedly denied it monitored people's internet access, but it blocks internet accounts based on what they communicate. How is this even possible?" she asked.An operator of the heavily subscribed WeChat public account said the government aims to choke any voice other than the official voice. Requesting not to publish her name, she said she was concerned about the government campaign.She said the government claims the crackdown on content is to help the unity of China. However, the move comes when China faces international criticism on several fronts and it wants to hide facts from Chinese people."So it has to use official media to spread misinformation to the public and get them to hate the world. At the same time, it is cracking down on online platforms to prevent people from sending out messages," she said.China has always considered Christianity as a medium promoting the Western world, so it wants to crack down on the religion, she added.