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Another step in revising regulations on religion

HONG KONG (UCAN): A draft bill to amend the Regulation for Religious Affairs was released by the Chinese government for a one-month public consultation on September 7.

This follows an extensive build-up over the last year that had the involvement of the highest levels of the Chinese government including the president, Xi Jinping.

The amendments are part of the overall strategy Xi has to reinforce the control exercised by the Communist Party in China over religions, minorities and any potential source of social disruption.

It is allied to the continuing crackdown on corruption, which those at the top interpret as threatening the legitimacy of party rule.

The public consultation, which runs until October 7, was announced on the website of the State Council Legislative Affairs Office.

In 9,600 Chinese characters, the draft includes chapters on general legal provisions, religious bodies, sites for activities, personnel, property, legal liability, religious activities, supplementary provisions and two new chapters on an institute for religious education.

This set of amendments to the laws regulating religion has introduced 26 new articles, an increase from 48 to 74.

Ying Fuk-tsang, the director of the Divinity School at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, points out that Article 6 of the bill adds more organisational units at different levels to control religious affairs.

“You can see religious management expanded from the government to grassroots units, such as village or street committees,” Ying commented.

Reverend Choy Siu-Kai, from the Alliance Bible Seminary, said the amendments granted extra powers to monitor and administer religious groups.

“If any religious conflict occurs there is a greater chance of the rights of the religious people and their communities being infringed,” he said, adding it will make religious freedom more elusive.

The current Regulation for Religious Affairs—in force up until the amendments were released—was promulgated in 2004 and came into effect in March 2005.

The 2004 document followed a party summit in 2001 and replaced the Regulation on Administration of Sites for Religious Activities promulgated in 1994.

In July 2015, Wang Zuo’an, the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, stressed at a forum that amending the Regulation for Religious Affairs was the main task for the department in 2015.

Wang said that the Regulation for Religious Affairs is “a sign of development in legal constructions for the religious sector.” The Christian Times says on its website that the 2004 ordinances were no longer suitable and had to be amended.

Intensive training to prepare religious officials for the amendment is underway.

On the same day the draft was released, Yu Zhengsheng, one of seven standing committee members of the Politburo, spoke at a seminar and insisted on the need for Sinicising religions in China and using core socialist values to lead religious development in the country.

The seven-day seminar for provincial officials was a follow-up to the National Conference of Religious Work presided over by Xi in April.

Shih Chien-yu, from the Central Asian Studies Association in Taiwan, summed up the issue saying, “It stresses localisation, legalisation and Sinicisation.”

He concluded, “Simply speaking, the religious policy in China is now to prevent or cut off direct intervention from foreign religious forces and to try and keep religious policy concrete and aligned with the law.”

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