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State Administration for Religious Affairs in China Explains New Internet Regulations

01/21/2022 China (International Christian Concern) – To better answer the public’s questions with regards to the latest measures promulgated to curb religious activities online, the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) in China recently published written responses on its website. ICC selected a few responses to indicate the scope of such measures.

The Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Service, which will come into force beginning Mar. 1, were put in place because

In recent years, Internet websites, applications, forums, blogs, microblogs, public accounts, instant messaging tools, live webcasts, etc. involving religious content have sprung up one after another, and there have been some notable outstanding problems. They are mainly as follows: some organizations and individuals set up virtual religious activity venues and religious institutions on the Internet to engage in religious activities, carry out religious education, which disrupted and impacted the normal order of religious affairs management; some engage in various forms of illegal fund-raising and feudal superstition activities on the Internet under the banner of religion, which harmed people’s physical and mental health and property safety. In addition, some made statements on the Internet that violate the Party’s religious policies, incite religious fanaticism, slander and attack religions, or provoke inter-religious conflicts, which affected the normal order in the religious field and social harmony and stability. Some other publicized religiously extremist thoughts and separatist thoughts on the Internet, encouraged and planned violent terrorist activities, undermined national unity and political stability in China, which endangered national security.

In terms of how the Measures define the scope of Internet religious information services and the requirements for engaging in this service,

Internet religious information services include Internet religious information publishing services, reprinting services, communication platform services, and other services related to Internet religious information. Services that provide information such as religious teachings, religious knowledge, religious culture and religious activities to the public through Internet websites, applications, forums, blogs, microblogs, public accounts, instant messaging tools, live webcasts, etc. are all within the permitted scope of Internet religious information services.

To engage in this service, the following conditions are required: 1. The applicant is a legal person organization or an unincorporated organization legally established within the territory of the People’s Republic of China, and its legal representative or principal responsible person is a mainland resident with Chinese nationality; 2. There are information auditors who are familiar with national religious policies and regulations and related religious knowledge; 3. The applicant has a sound Internet religious information service management system; 4. The applicant has a sound information security management system and safe and controllable technical guarantee measures; 5. There are places, facilities, and funds that match the service; 6. The applicant and its legal representative or principal responsible person have no criminal record or acts violating the relevant provisions of the administration of religious affairs in the past three years. In addition, the Measures make it clear that overseas organizations or individuals and their organizations established in China shall not engage in Internet religious information services in China.

To conduct religious lectures online, the following are required:

There are mainly the following provisions. The first is the subject, which is clearly defined in the Measures, must be religious groups, religious institutions, temples, and churches that have obtained the Internet Religious Information Service License. The second is that the platform must be and only be lawfully self-established Internet websites, applications, forums, etc. The third is that the personnel who can give lectures and sermons should only be religious faculty members and teachers of religious colleges. The fourth is that the contents should be beneficial to social harmony, progress, health, and civilization to guide the citizens to be patriotic and law-abiding. The fifth is the management, with the real names of those who participate in the lectures being recorded. These regulations not only give legal religious groups, colleges, temples, churches and religious faculty the right to conduct lectures on the Internet but also effectively prevent illegal religious organizations and individuals from wooing believers and engaging in illegal activities on the Internet.

In short, under the new Measures, house churches will not be able to conduct religious activities online for they are not sanctioned by the state in the first place. The pastors and leaders of house churches are also predominantly trained outside of state-vetted seminaries, which disqualify them from preaching “legally.” House churches will have to come up with creative ways in order to carry on regular worship amid the intensified crackdown.

(Translation done by China Christian Daily)

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