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China mulls major restrictions on online Christian Ministries

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) looks on as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) receives a golden Buddha statue from an abbot of the Dacien Buddhist Temple in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China, May 14, 2015. Credit: Reuters

By Aaron Sseruyigo

China has released a draft of new proposed restrictions on gospel ministries, and Christians have one month to tell their government what they think of the new rules that among others “forbid the streaming of church proceedings (live on the internet), including prayers and preachings.

Christianity Today reports that China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) posted a draft on 10 September of new regulations on online religious activities, and added that the new measures, contained in 35 articles, are “much more restrictive and analytical” than regulations on religious activities that went into effect earlier this year in February.

According to AsiaNews, they establish that anyone who wants to open a religious site, must seek permission from the authorities and be judged morally healthy and politically reliable.

Organizations and schools that receive the license can only publish didactic material via the Internet in their internal network, accessible only through a registered name and password. The rules emphasize that such organizations can not try to convert someone, and they cannot distribute religious texts or other material.

“They are still in draft form and await comments from the public, but as is almost always the case, the draft is in practice the final text,” reports AsiaNews.

Elsewhere in the proposed statement, foreign and non-mainland (i.e. Hong Kong and Taiwan) organizations and individuals would be prohibited from providing “internet religious information services” to mainland Chinese users.

This would, according to Christianity Today, apply to a broad swath of online activity: “information involving religion, including that relating to religious doctrine, religious knowledge, religious culture, or religious activities, that is transmitted as text, images, audio or video through means of Internet websites, applications, forums, blogs, microblogs, public accounts, instant messaging, or online live-streaming.”

Providers of such online material must be approved by the state, and must obey existing laws as well as actively adapt religion to Chinese socialism and preserve ethnic unity and social stability. Their license would be valid for three years before renewal.

Such websites, blogs, or other digital ministries would be prohibited from containing in their names the words China, Chinese, or National, while “religious names” like Catholic, Christian, or Buddhist could only be used to the specific religious groups and their schools or sites.

Religious groups, schools, or “activity sites” that obtain license to provide religious information online would be allowed to have religious professionals preach on their platforms and conduct religious education. However, they must have all users registered under their real names, and their interpretation of religious doctrines and rules must be conducive to “social harmony, the progress of the times, and healthy civilization,” according to the crowdsourced translation.

Also, both preaching and education must implement a “real-name management system.”

Organizations and individuals without a license would be prohibited from preaching or teaching online, and even prohibited from forwarding or linking to such content.

In a potentially foreboding sign for Christians on China’s massive social networks, the draft rules state that online broadcasters without the new religious licenses must prohibit their users from publishing religious information on those platforms.

If the draft rules are finalized, existing religious sites will have six months to come into compliance, according to Christianity Today.

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