On 1 February new administrative regulations came into effect in China, which set out measures on the structure and function of religious organisations, as well as supervision and administration by the authorities.
According to a translation by Bitter Winter, Article 5 states that “Religious organizations must support the leadership of the Communist Party of China” and “adhere to the direction of Sinicization of religions.” The measures reinforce the stipulation that religious organisations must be approved by the authorities in order to carry out religious activities.
The regulations state that religious organisations are required to report for review and approval by the authorities on a wide range of activities and affairs, including personnel changes within the organisation, important meetings, activities, trainings and international communications, overseas donations over 100,000 yuan, large financial expenditures, and major construction projects. Organisations are also required to ensure their staff learn about “the major decisions of the Communist Party of China, national policies and regulations, the glorious traditional Chinese culture, and knowledge about religion” (Article 32).
The introduction of these new regulations occurs against a backdrop of widespread violations of freedom of religion or belief in China in recent years. Towards the end of 2019, religious communities, activists and lawyers were targeted with a range of violations, including arbitrary detention, harassment and restriction on religious activities. China has also come under international scrutiny over a growing body of evidence of mass arbitrary detentions in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where it is estimated that between one and three million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities have been detained without charge in ‘political re-education’ camps.
The widely-reported coronavirus outbreak is another obstacle to Christians meeting together. Public events have been cancelled across the country. In many areas, church services have also been cancelled, and much of the country is under travel restrictions. Christians have been encouraging one another to pray for all those affected, and for peace in the time to come.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “These new administrative regulations come at a time when members of religious groups across China have faced mounting violations of their right to freedom of religion or belief in recent years, including arbitrary detention, forced closure of churches, harassment and intimidation of religious adherents, and even torture. We call on China to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is fully respected, and we urge the international community to take every opportunity to raise these and other human rights concerns with China in bilateral and multilateral engagements.”