The Chinese government has increased measures to suppress religious belief and practice. New regulations, published on the government’s legal information website on Sept. 10, make it illegal for religious services, prayer, or preaching to be broadcast online. Under the new “Measures for the management of religious information on the Internet” those groups or churches wishing to maintain a religious website will need a government-issued license certifying that their content is politically acceptable.
Online evangelization is strictly prohibited, as are materials aimed at converting readers. Catechetical or instructive resources cannot be openly published online and must be restricted to internal networks accessed with registered user names and passwords.
The ban represents the latest development in President Xi Jinping’s policy of Sinicization, which places national identity and communist political belief over religious faith. At the same time as the new rules were published, reports emerged of more churches being closed in several provinces.
According to China Aid, a U.S. based organization supporting persecuted Christians, the first week of September saw government officials in Henan Province launch a wave of “escalating measures” against local Christians. These have included the removal and destruction of crosses from individuals and families, raids on church buildings, and the seizure of property.
Other reports include accounts of Bibles being burned and of Christians being forced to sign statements renouncing their faith.
The recent escalation is part of a pattern of church closures and demolitions across China following broad changes to government religious policy in February, 2018. Those changes, which tightened restrictions on places of worship and banned children from attending religious services, also placed the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association under the direct oversight of the Communist Party.
The new limitations on religious freedom and practice, and the introduction of the Sinicization policy, coincided with other constitutional reforms consolidating the position of President Xi.
Writing on the China Aid website, Dr. Bo Fu, the organization’s president, called the recent campaign a “massive clampdown” on religious freedom by government officials, and said it was a cause for serious concern.
“Now that the Chinese Communist Party has started to burn Bibles and coerce millions of believers in the Christian faith and other religious minorities to even sign a written pledge to renounce their basic religious beliefs, the international community should be alarmed and outraged at this blatant violation of freedom of religion and belief and demand the Chinese regime stop and remedy this dangerous course.”
In addition to the added measures against Chinese Christians, ethnic and religious Muslim communities have also faced heavy government action.
In the northwestern province of Xinjiang, the ethnic Turkic population has been subjected to a program of mass internment and “political reeducation.” According to a report released by Human Rights Watch on Sept. 9, the government has introduced “systemic and increasingly pervasive” controls on daily life for Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other minority communities resulting in “rampant” human rights abuses.
According to the report, local government officials have created a network of “political education camps” in which thousands of people have been detained. Chinese officials have said that the camps are to combat the spread of religious extremism.
Two weeks ago, U.S. lawmakers from both parties called upon the Trump administration to consider imposing sanctions on China in response to the detention and re-education program.
Speaking to the New York Times, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called the detention program “massive” in scale. “It involves not only intimidating people on political speech, but also a desire to strip people of their identity — ethnic identity, religious identity — on a scale that I’m not sure we’ve seen in the modern era.”