The government of China revealed Friday its intention to tighten supervision on the financial management of the country's 130,000 religious institutions in response to "prevailing malpractice."
In a statement, the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) claimed that authorities found some institutions did not follow standard financial rules and that malpractices were reported.
More specifically, SARA said authorities found that heads of some religious institutions embezzled or misused public money, and the property of some religious institutions had been used for non-religious.
"For quite a long time, finance affairs of religious institutions were largely under self-discipline," the government body stated. "Systems have not been in place so the authorities could supervise, which caused some problems."
To better regulate financial management of religious institutions, the Chinese government has introduced a new regulation this month that will be on trial this year and take effect formally nationwide next year.
Under the new rules, religious institutions are required to hire their own accountants or have an accounting firm take care of their finances.
Furthermore, religious institutions are required to submit their annual financial reports to authorities three months after conclusion of the financial year.
And when the head or financial chief of a religious institution leaves their post, authorities will audit the institution.
Experts believe the new rules are motivated by the government's desire to control the activities of various groups – which can be more easily done through constant supervision of their financial operations.
While China officially allows freedom of religion, the Chinese Communist Party in practice restricts religious groups through a bureaucratic registration process that demands allegiance to the officially atheist ruling party.
The United States has regularly called for China to end what it views as politically motivated repression of the millions of religious faithful in the country.
In October, the U.S. State Department released its 2009 international religious freedom report, which noted the Chinese government's repression of the religious activities of "underground" Roman Catholic clergy, saying it was "in large part due to their (the clergy's) avowed loyalty to the Vatican, which the Government accused of interfering in the country's internal affairs."
"Government also continued to restrict severely the activities of groups it designated as 'evil religions,' including several Christian groups and Falun Gong," the State Department added.
Though the exact figure is unknown, some put the estimated population of underground Chinese Christians as high as 100 million.