HRIC Releases Statement on China's New Religious Regulations

China’s new religious regulations do not reflect a relaxation in the administration of religion, according to an international organization that promotes universally recognized human rights.

Human Rights in China (HRIC), in a recently released statement, reported that the chief rationale behind the adoption of new regulations—“to deal with new situations and issues that have emerged in recent years with China's rapid socioeconomic development”—indicates that the Chinese central government has again drafted a document not to protect, but to regulate all religious activities.

“Since the late 1970s China has allowed believers greater latitude for worship, but in exchange for accepting a regulatory structure designed to limit clergy autonomy and stifle congregational growth,” the organization wrote in the Mar. 14 statement.

HRIC said the principal mechanism through which the state maintains its control continues to be prior government approval—a system of “registration”—for the establishment of any religious group or place of worship. In light of this complete state control, the system effectively nullifies freedom of religion, as any unregistered group, site, or activity is “illegal”.

The new regulations aim to “further standardize the registration system for the establishment of a religious body or site for religious activities," perpetuating and strengthening the existing system.

Chan Kim-kwong, a China expert at the Hong Kong Christian Council, told the Agence-France Presse in December that "For those which are not registered, Chinese government's dismissal of them in terms of banning or punishment will be stepped up."

"These groups will have even less room for survival," he added. "When the grey areas have gone and if you're not registered, you won't be in the game anymore."

HRIC reported that “a detailed analysis of the provisions clearly indicates that there has been no paradigm shift in the administration of religion, but rather a continuation of the classic pattern of state-controlled religion."

The agency also noted that the regulatory devices that have been used in the suppression of legitimate religious activities in the past remain in the current regulations. These devices include:

1) mandatory prior registration;
2) patriotic character of the clergy; and
3) protection of national and public order and prohibition of religious extremism.

On these grounds, the HRIC reports that authorities continue to:

1) routinely arrest and detain religious figures or parishioners;
2) cancel the registration of religious groups;
3) close religious venues;
4) oversee overhaul religious personnel;
5) impose administrative punishment (including fines and short-term detention); 6) administrative harassment; and
7) impose restrictions on religious personnel movements, contacts, visits and correspondence.

In its conclusion, the HRIC said it appeared that the premise for the Chinese government to adopt this new set of regulations was not based on the desire to make freedom of religion available to its citizens, but was “motivated by its overarching need to regulate freedom of association in the name of national security and public order.”