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  • Human Rights Research Center

How China’s New Regulation Further Strangles Religious Freedom

Author: Xun Jia

December 28, 2023


[Image source: https://tibet.net/china-limits-religious-freedom-in-tibet-annual-us-state-department-report/]

Effective September 1, 2023, the new regulation on religious activities called “Measures for the Management of Religious Activity Venues” issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) replaced “Measures for the Approval and Registration of the Establishment of Religious Activity Venues,” the ongoing rule that has been implemented over the past 18 years. Comparing the new regulation to the old rule, there appears to be not only more clauses (76 clauses compared to 15 clauses) but also wider and deeper restrictions on religious freedom, targeting independence, autonomy, and privacy.


Independence


The new regulation places considerable emphasis on the significance of state politics and localization, a departure from the old rule, which paid little to no attention to these aspects. With Clauses 1 and 2 explaining the purpose and the scope of the regulation, Clause 3 starts immediately with phrases like ‘espousing the CCP’s rule’, ‘espousing socialism system’, and ‘studying Xi Jinping Thought’. This part of the clause requires any religious venues and participants, regardless of what sect of religions they believe in, to first support the Communist party and socialism system. Localization is another key theme to this clause. Phrases like “insist on Sinicization of Religion” require religious venues and participants defined by Clause 2 to integrate their faith with Chinese characteristics. Conversely, this part of the clause necessitates their acknowledgment of characteristics like Chinese uniformity, demanding them to recognize that Tibet, East Turkestan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are inalienable parts of the People’s Republic of China. The theme of state politics appeared multiple times after the third clause. It is mentioned in Clause 27.1, 30.1, and 36; Whereas the theme of localization appeared in Clause 30.1, 36, 39, 40, and 50.


Autonomy


What actions are permissible and non-permissible for religious venues? In the past, there was no explicit mention on what is allowed and what is not allowed, in terms of the daily operation. However, with the new regulation, religious venues are more limited in what they can do. Clauses 38 & 42 forbid religious activities outside of the registered space of the religious venue; Clause 43 requires report to the authority for any charity events before holding them; Clauses 49 & 53 forbid any alterations to the architectural landscape of religious venues without approval from Chinese authorities.


Privacy

Four clauses related to privacy violations are found among those addressing the registration and authorization of religious activities by the Chinese authorities. Clause 11.2 requires religious venues to include citizen’s ID, household card and other information related to individual’s privacy in their application form for reviewing; Clause 15.2 again asks for citizens’ ID and household card, while 15.4 asks for documents, including but not limited to human resource record; Clause 33 requires religious venues to strictly verify whoever established residency within the institution, temporary or permanent, and report them to the authorities for record; Clause 35 requires reporting to the authorities within 30 days for any changes in a permanent religious resident’s status.


Far from the End


In 2022, SARA introduced the “Measures for the Financial Management of Venues for Religious Activities” (“Financial Measures”), claiming that the purpose of the “Financial Measures” is to “improve the financial management system for religious activity sites”. With a total of 55 clauses, the “Measures” aimed at fiscal management of religious venues with preponderance mentioning of reporting, reviewing, recording to the authority. While the “Financial Measures” have limited impact on operational aspects, personnel procedure, and ideological guidance such as state politics and localization, the intention of interfering with the autonomy, independence, and privacy of religious venues was already evident across mainland China, Tibet, and East Turkestan. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the new rule covers many aspects that both the old regulation and the “Financial Measures” failed to cover, as CCP (Chinese Communist Party) gradually implements its strategies to strangle religious freedom step by step.


 

Glossary


Sinicization of religion:

A phrase that president Xi Jinping used in a major speech in 2016. Refers to indigenization of religious faith, practice, and ritual in Chinese culture and society (https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2019-09/sinicization-religion-china). It can also mean religious leaders to be selected and recognized by the CCP within a framework of strategies and objectives indicated by the CCP (https://bitterwinter.org/Vocabulary/sinicization/).


Xi Jinping Thought:

An ideological doctrine named after president Xi Jinping that aims to “build a moderately prosperous society, deepen reform, govern the nation according to law, and tighten Party discipline” (https://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/7872). Xi Jinping Thought is influential in mainland China as almost every aspect of the society is forced to promote his doctrine.


 

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