China Debuts New Rules Severely Restricting Religious Activity Online

China Debuts New Rules Severely Restricting Religious Activity Online

The rules ban religious groups from seeking converts, distributing texts, or livestreaming sermons online.

BEIJING (AP) — China is rolling out new rules on religious activity on the internet amid an ongoing crackdown on churches, mosques and other institutions by the officially atheist Communist Party.

Anyone wishing to provide religious instruction or similar services online must apply by name and be judged morally fit and politically reliable, according to draft regulations posted online late Monday by the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

Monks raise the Chinese national flag during a ceremony at Shaolin Temple on August 27, 2018 in Zhengzhou, China. It is the t

VCG via Getty Images
Monks raise the Chinese national flag during a ceremony at Shaolin Temple on August 27, 2018 in Zhengzhou, China. It is the temple’s first national flag raising ceremony since its establishment in 495.

Organizations and schools that receive licenses can operate only on their internal networks that require users to be registered and are barred from seeking converts or distributing texts or other religious materials, the rules said.

They also impose tight limits on what can be said or posted, including a ban on criticism of the party’s leadership and official religious policies, promoting religious participation by minors, and “using religion to … overthrow the socialist system.“

Livestreaming of religious activities, including praying, preaching or even burning incense, is also forbidden.

Women stand at a kitchen near a mosque during the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, in Kunming, Yunnan province, China August 22, 2

Wong Campion / Reuters
Women stand at a kitchen near a mosque during the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, in Kunming, Yunnan province, China August 22, 2018.

Authorities in recent months have ratcheted up pressure on religious groups, destroying crosses, burning bibles, shutting churches and ordering followers to renounce their faith.

The campaign is part of a drive to “Sinicize” religion by demanding loyalty to the officially atheist Communist Party and leader Xi Jinping. Observers call it the most severe crackdown since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.

Chinese law requires religious believers to worship only in congregations registered with the authorities and bans most religious observance in private homes.

Jin Mingri, head pastor of Beijing's Zion church, poses in the lobby of the unofficial Protestant "house" church on August 28

Thomas Peter / Reuters
Jin Mingri, head pastor of Beijing’s Zion church, poses in the lobby of the unofficial Protestant “house” church on August 28, 2018. The church was shut down on Sunday by government workers.

All of China’s officially recognized religions appear to have been affected by the crackdown. In the northwestern region of Xinjiang, an estimated 1 million Uighurs and other members of Muslim minority groups have been arbitrarily detained in indoctrination camps where they are forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the party.

The government denies setting up the camps but says it is taking necessary measures to eliminate extremism.

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