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China curbs faith expression online

04 March 2022

An internet cafe in Beijing

An internet cafe in Beijing

NEW measures came into force in China on Tuesday, banning the sharing of religious content online, including recorded or live church services.

The Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services means that those wanting to share content have to apply for a licence — which will be given only to Chinese-approved religious groups. Religious content produced by others, including China’s many unregistered house churches, will be illegal, and the creator could face punishment.

The Asia analyst for the Christian anti-persecution charity Open Doors, Thomas Muller, said that legal access to the internet would be granted only to the “five authorised religions”, which include the state-controlled Roman Catholic Church, now operating under a provisional agreement with the Vatican, and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

Mr Muller said: “To be able to post or share anything online requires an ‘Internet Religious Information Service Permit’. In practice, these will only be made available to the already ‘legally established’ churches. Even these churches will have their content closely scrutinised, to ensure that the message is suitably ‘Sinicised’ and in keeping with Chinese Communist Party teaching. All other ‘underground’ churches are effectively being driven off the internet.”

The new measure was announced before last Christmas, but came into effect on Tuesday. It says: “No organisation or individual shall preach on the Internet, carry out religious education and training, publish sermon content, forward or link to related content, organise and conduct religious activities on the Internet, or live broadcast or post recorded videos of religious rituals” without a permit. Some pastors have already been punished for sharing content online, in advance of the new measures.

Partners in China have told Open Doors that they have deleted any religious-related posts on social media in anticipation of the new law. “As the measures were announced, it made Christians and other religious minorities panic, and some WeChat groups with a religious name either changed names or disbanded,” an attorney, Huang Deqi, wrote on WeChat. “Implementing these new regulations will severely strip and crack down on freedom of speech and religion, which is protected by the PRC [People’s Republic of China] Constitution.”

His post was deleted within hours of its posting, according to the advocacy organisation China Aid.

China is 17th on Open Doors 2022 World Watch List of countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.

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