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China's internet rules 'will strangle religion'

Wide-ranging draft measures will make it difficult for churches and individuals to publish information
China's internet rules 'will strangle religion'

Delegates surf the internet at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing in this file image taken March 2003. Draft regulations on internet religious information are viewed as further suppression of religious freedom in China. (Photo by AFP)

Published: September 19, 2018 04:17 AM GMT
Updated: September 19, 2018 04:19 AM GMT

China has been accused of trying to strangle religion after publishing draft measures to administer the distribution of religious information on the internet.

The State Administration for Religious Affairs on Sept. 10 released the draft for feedback. The deadline for comments is Oct. 9.

One network administrator described the measures as "an all-around strangulation" that aims to strictly control religions from real life to the online world, making evangelization more difficult.

Philip, a diocesan internet administrator in China, told ucanews.com that the most controversial measure is that any applicants to supply internet religious information should be legal corporate organizations or legal unincorporated organizations based in China, while their legal representatives or principal responsible persons must be residents of Chinese nationality.

Applicants and legal representatives or principal responsible persons must have no criminal record in the past three years and should not have violated national religious policies and regulations.

In addition, there should be information reviewers familiar with national religious policies and regulations; a sound internet religious information service management system; a sound information security management system; and venues, facilities and funds that match the service.

Applicants previously only needed approval from the State Internet Information Office but must now also be approved by the religious department.

A notice on the draft stated that it was formulated in accordance with the cybersecurity law, regulations on internet information services and regulations on religious affairs, aiming to maintain religious and social harmony.

Philip said the measures are destructive for personal social media because individuals are not allowed to publish any religious information including texts, images and videos.

He pointed out that many diocesan websites and public accounts are in the names of church members or network management. If the draft measures are approved, all these websites could be shut down.

The draft also states that any overseas organizations or individuals, even if they are established in China, may not engage in internet religious information services.

In addition, the names of internet religious information services cannot contain the words "China", "National", "Buddhism", "Daoism", "Islam", "Catholic" and "Christian", nor the names of religious groups, religious institutions and religious venues.

Internet religious information shall not violate the principle of religious independence and self-management and shall not conduct commercial propaganda, distribution and transmission of religious articles, religious internal information publication and illegal publication in the name of religion, according to the draft measures.

Only those religious faculty members of religious groups, institutions and venues that have obtained a permit are allowed to preach on their own online platforms under real-name management. Other organizations and individuals are not allowed to preach, give lectures or forward links to any content. 

Philip said authorities have already imposed restrictions on evangelization in real life and now are regulating the internet, which seriously violates freedom of speech and religious belief.

Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the Christian Times that the measures were introduced after President, Xi Jinping raised questions about managing religions on the internet in 2016.

He also said that internet religious information defined by the draft is wide-ranging and covers almost any form of network information and the broadcast of religious activities including worship, baptism and Buddha worship in the form of texts, images, audio and videos.

"The measures, plus the recent suppression of house churches, reveal that authorities are completely obliterating the space for house churches to publish information since the internet is the main way in which house churches preach," Ying said.

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