Date: February 16, 2022
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 633
CHINA: NEW DRACONIAN MEASURES COME INTO FORCE 1 MARCH.
Measures on the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services
by Elizabeth Kendal
President Xi Jinping addresses the conference.
On 3 and 4 December the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held a National Conference in Beijing on Work Related to Religious Affairs. President Xi Jinping made it clear that much more work needs to be done to prevent religious 'propaganda' from spreading over the internet. Xi called for more surveillance and control of the internet, and for penalties to apply to religious believers who use the internet to proselytise for their faith or criticise the CCP. On 20 December China's State Bureau of Religious Affairs posted to its website the regime's new draconian Measures on the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services. [Full text (in English)] The Measures will come into force on 1 March.
From 1 March only organisations and individuals with an Internet Religious Information Services Licence may engage in 'religious information services' (i.e., may provide or disseminate religious information via the internet). To receive a Licence, the applicant must be 'a mainland resident with Chinese nationality' (thus, no foreign organisations or individuals allowed). Furthermore, they must be 'a legal person organisation or an unincorporated organisation legally established within the territory of the People's Republic of China'. In other words, only CCP-approved registered churches and CCP-approved licensed clerics may apply for an Internet Religious Information Services Licence. According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the Measures will 'prevent illegal religious organisations and individuals [e.g., unregistered house churches and their 100 million members] from wooing believers and engaging in illegal activities on the internet.'
Without a Licence, it will be illegal to 'do virtual missionary work and religious education and training, post the content of sermons, or forward related content'. It will be illegal also to 'organise, broadcast live, or record religious activities'. Meanwhile, it remains illegal to publish content that induces minors (aged under 18) to believe in religion. Any organisation or individual who uploads religious information to the internet without a Licence, will have their internet service shut down. Furthermore, they will be categorised as having no social credit score. Chinese citizens need social credit to participate in the economy. Lack of social credit leads to denial of access to goods and services - everything from healthcare and education to jobs and transport. It is a serious penalty.
On 8 February attorney Huang Deqi penned an article entitled: 'Where Does Faith Go in the Era of Internet Closure? - On the Administrative Measures of Internet Religious Information.' Huang argued that the Measures violate not merely China's own constitution, but multiple conventions China has signed. With China being a totalitarian surveillance state, it was only a matter of hours before the article disappeared from the web. The Measures on the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services herald a dramatic tightening of CCP control over religion and a major crackdown on freedom of speech. The CCP's aim is to have 'Sinicised' religion (i.e., religion that serves the CCP) as the only religion being seen, heard and accessed in China. 'Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails' (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:
- pour a spirit of deep peace over the Church in China and help her focus not on the denial of internet access but on the faithfulness and power of our awesome Triune God: our Almighty Father who created and fills all heaven and earth; our Saviour Jesus Christ whom the Father has exalted as Lord over all; and the ever-present Holy Spirit who never has been and never will be constrained by CCP 'measures'.
- grace Chinese Christian organisations, churches and individuals with great wisdom and knowledge of his will, so they might be 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves' (Matthew 10:16) as they carefully and faithfully navigate their way through days of escalating repression and persecution.
- redeem these dark days; may Christ continue to build his Church in China (Matthew 16:18). May the Holy Spirit prepare the fields for the Gospel seed that the Church will continue to faithfully scatter by any means possible (Matt 13:1-23).