Those who dare to worship an “illegal religion” in China would be wise to keep the praying behind closed doors. Or face a hefty fine, because the ruling Communist Party’s State Council has endorsed revisions to the Regulation on Religious Affairs, giving even low-level authorities the freedom to police religion in the country.
Village, township and county governments now have the power to enforce restrictions which include the curbing of religious activities in schools, foreign trips for religious training, and even religious postings online – chances are the government had control of that already. Still, the endorsement of the State Council gives officials a whole new level of religious control.
And the amendments seem to call for equal opportunity persecution of religion. They’re free to regulate everything from Christianity to Islam and Buddhism – all still legal, however. But anyone providing a venue for an “illegal religious event” can face a fine of up to 20,000 to 200,000 yuan.
Some analysts, however, say the real target is the Protestant House churches which have burgeoned in the last twenty years, but are now in the cross-hairs of President Xi Jinping. Professor Yang Fengguang from Purdue University estimates there are around 93 million Protestants in China.
But this group is not only a thorn on the ruling Party’s side.
Imam An Jianlong, of the official Nanjing Islamic Association, told the South China Morning Post, he welcomed the changes because they would regulate “the messy grass-root religious activities.”
A Guangzhou-based Christian, however, believes the regulations may not be the right way to regulate the Protestants. “We are exposed to them while they operate in the dark so there is only so much we can do,” she told the SCMP.
State media, however, says these rules are needed to curb violence and protect security.
“The ordinance further regulates religious affairs management by protecting the sanctioned, curbing the illegal and extreme, fighting infiltration and cracking down on criminals. [It will] also strengthen monitoring over religious property, regulate religious information on the internet while spelling out legal liabilities,” read a report by Xinhua. “Organizations or individuals are not allowed to create conflicts between different religions, within a religion or between believers and non-believers.”