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Stiff limits on House Churches

HONG KONG (SE): Protestant Churches in China have vowed to continue to gather despite new rules forbidding “organising others to attend religious events,” Radio Free Asia reported on November 17.

On October 7, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China enacted extremely limiting measures aimed at eliminating worship among unofficial Christian groups, like unregistered House Churches or among Tibetans and Muslim Uyghurs.

The ban includes preaching or religious events in schools and providing religious services online.

Individuals and groups are also prohibited from organising religious training sessions, conferences and activities overseas. Beijing-based Pastor Xu Yonghai, who heads the Sheng’ai Protestant Family Church Fellowship, said his group would continue to meet in defiance of the rules.

“Article 41 of the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs issued in October makes a reference to non-religious groups, but we know that in fact it is talking about House Churches like ours,” Xu said. “That’s how we understand it.”

He added, “What this means is that the space for us to express our religious beliefs is getting more and more constricted. There is also less and less scope for Protestant Christians in China to form ties with Protestant Christians overseas.”

Provincial governments are imposing restrictions on teaching posts in foreign countries, while a clause forbidding religious activities in unapproved sites calls on local governments to extend a nationwide crackdown on House Churches.

The last revision of the regulations was in 2006. There are signs that the authorities are increasingly imposing travel restrictions on high-profile Christians.

Henan-based Pastor Kang Jinqun was denied a passport and travel permit to go to Hong Kong in mid-November, because he has been designated as a member of the Falun Gong. He was also banned from travelling to Taiwan earlier this year.

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