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(Forum 18) – Believers have responded warily to the new religious ordinance which codifies the state’s policies on religious affairs, though implementation will test if it makes religious practice easier or more difficult. The ordinance, adopted by the National Assembly’s standing committee in June, comes into force on 15 November. Officials have already met religious representatives to discuss the content. The ordinance lays greater stress on believers “abiding by law” rather than needing specific permission for many activities, but still reflects official suspicion of religious groups. Registered groups will need annual permission to hold regular meetings in their own buildings, while conferences in other premises will require specific permission. Unclear is whether home meetings are allowed. Religious activities and even beliefs can be banned. Prisoners are banned from religious activity, while former prisoners need permission. Local officials must approve assignment of clergy, while religious groups’ contacts with abroad remain under official control. The ordinance does not mention the return of confiscated places of worship. Three Catholic priests described the ordinance as “a tool of the state to oppress people of faith”.