China tightens new restrictions on religious content on the internet

Catholic worshipers attend a morning mass on Easter Sunday at a Catholic church in a village near Beijing on April 4, 2021. |

The Chinese Communist Party, which has been criticized for targeting Christians and exercising its internet censorship power through big tech companies, places even more restrictions on its citizens’ religious freedom with new law regulating religious content online, according to a report.

The new legislation, known as Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services, which was enacted last month, will be enacted on March 1, reports Bitter Winter, a publication produced by the Center for Studies on New Religion. which covers human rights issues in China.

The law imposes an “Internet religious information service license” on any religious group that wishes to broadcast religious content on the Internet. But he says only “legally established” organizations can do this, which practically means only groups that are part of the five religions allowed in China can use the Internet to distribute religious content.

Open Doors USA, which covers the persecution in more than 60 countries, estimates that China has more than 97 million Christians, many of whom worship in unregistered or so-called “illegal” underground churches.

The five state-sanctioned religious groups in China are the Chinese Buddhist Association, the Chinese Taoist Association, the China Islamic Association, the Tri-Autonomous Protestant Patriotic Movement, and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Even organizations within the five permissible religions are subject to scrutiny and limitations, Bitter Winter reports.

According to the new law: “[T]They can disseminate sermons and lessons, but these would be vetted by the authorities for their “sinicized” content, ensuring that they promote socialist values ​​and support the party, and are not intended as tools of proselytism. . Universities and religious colleges can only distribute content over the Internet to their students. Any attempt to distribute religious content to minors or to “induce minors to believe in religion” will result in termination of the license. “

Without the license, it will be strictly forbidden to share any images or comments on “religious ceremonies such as worshiping Buddha, burning incense, ordination, singing, worshiping, mass and baptisms. “.

The law follows complaints from President Xi Jinping that bans on using the Internet to “advertise” religion are not enough to prevent “religious propaganda.”

Last May, when another set of religion regulations came into effect in China, Communist authorities suppressed Christian WeChat Bible apps and public accounts, including “Gospel League” and “Life Quarterly,” reported the US persecution watchdog International Christian Concern at the time.

Bookstores belonging to the state-sanctioned Trois-Auto churches were increasingly selling books that promote the communist thoughts and ideology of President Xi Jinping, the ICC added.

In October 2020, internet censorship targeting Christians in China became so severe that even official government sanctioned Christian groups began using the Chinese pinyin initials “JD” to replace the Chinese characters for “Christ,” China Aid reported at the time.

In 2018, the Chinese government banned the sale of Bibles in online bookstores across the country to comply with a “white paper” that mandated respect for “core values ​​of socialism.”

Australian agency ABC News reported at the time that copies of the gospels were withdrawn from online retailers following the publication of a regime document titled “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of religious belief ”.

The white paper declared that Chinese religious communities “should adhere to the direction of the localization of religion, practice the core values ​​of socialism, develop and extend the beautiful Chinese tradition, and actively explore religious thought that accords with the national situation.” from China “.

China is ranked 17th among the world’s worst countries for persecution of Christians on Open Doors USA’s 2021 Global Watchlist.