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Rewards for spying on 'illegal religious activities' in China

Chinese cities and counties introduce cash incentives for residents who report on unauthorized religious activities

Rewards for spying on 'illegal religious activities' in China

A church in China's Ningxia province. (Photo: China Christian Daily)

Local authorities in northeastern China have introduced financial rewards for people to spy on their neighbors and report “illegal religious activities.”

The local branch of the United Front Work Department in Meilisi Daur district of Qiqihar in Heilongjiang province launched the scheme this month, reported China Christian Daily.

The department is the umbrella intelligence and coordination body of the Chinese Communist Party that gathers intelligence, manages relations and attempts to influence individuals and organizations including religions and religious groups inside and outside China.

The Aug. 9 announcement in Qiqihar said that informants could earn up to 1,000 yuan (US$150) for tips about “illegal foreign infiltration” and whistleblowers could be paid from 500 to 1,000 yuan for reports about unqualified religious personnel, unauthorized trans-regional activities, preaching and distributing printed religious works, audio-visual products outside places of worship, unauthorized donations or private house gatherings.

In the past two years, the Chinese government introduced several laws and regulations demanding registration of all places of worship with the government. Laws also criminalized clergy, who mister communities, without government registration.

Leaders of the underground Churches say the laws are meant to target them and their clergy.     

Informants can use phone calls, emails and letters to contact authorities.

The move seeks to “strengthen the control of illegal religious activities in the district, prevent any Covid-19 cluster resulting from religious gatherings, mobilize the public to engage in preventing, suppressing illegal religious activities, and ensure a harmonious and stable religious landscape,” the statement said.

In Henan province last year, similar rewards were offered for people who reported illegal religious activities via a hotline

Similar rewards systems were previously introduced in Boshan district and Weihai City, both in Shandong province.

The notice urged residents to report any unauthorized religious training and summer or winter camps attended by minors, or any evangelistic activity for “parenting purposes.” Unapproved internet religious information, religious donation campaigns that violate the law, and charitable activities for evangelism would be also included, China Christian Daily reported.

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Such financial incentives in officially atheist China are not new.

In 2019, US-based International Christian Concern reported that authorities in Guizhou province had started offering incentives of up to $1,000 to residents to report illegal religious activities. The move specifically targeted churches that met without government registration.

In Henan province last year, similar rewards were offered for people who reported illegal religious activities via a hotline.

Other places such as Fujian, Guangxi, Hebei and Liaoning have been offering financial incentives for whistleblowers since last year.

Communist China recognizes the legal entity of five religions — Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Taoism. However, for decades, authorities have strictly controlled official religious groups and persecuted those adhering allegiance to unrecognized or unregistered groups.

Global watchdogs have documented and criticized China’s repressive policies and actions against religious groups including Christians.

In January, US-based Christian group Open Doors published a World Watch List that listed China 17th among 50 countries where Christians face the most severe forms of persecution.

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