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New Internet rules could strangle religion

HONG KONG (UCAN): China has been accused of trying to strangle religion after the State Administration for Religious Affairs published draft measures to administer the distribution of religious information on the Internet on September 10. The deadline for comments is October 9.
One network administrator described the measures as “an all-around strangulation” that aims to strictly control religions from real life to the online world, making evangelisation more difficult.
Philip, a diocesan Internet administrator in China, said that the most controversial measure is requiring any applicants who supply religious information on the Internet to be legal corporate organisations or legal unincorporated organisations based in China, while their legal representatives or principal responsible persons must be residents with Chinese nationality.
Applicants and legal representatives or principal responsible persons must have no criminal record in the past three years and should not have violated national religious policies and regulations.
In addition, there should be information reviewers familiar with national religious policies and regulations, a sound Internet religious information service management system, a sound information security management system, as well as venues, facilities and funds that match the service.
Applicants previously only needed approval from the State Internet Information Office but must now also be approved by the religious department.
A notice on the draft stated that it was formulated in accordance with the cybersecurity law, regulations on Internet information services and regulations on religious affairs, aiming to maintain religious and social harmony.
Philip said the measures are destructive for personal social media because individuals are not allowed to publish any religious information including texts, images and videos.
He pointed out that many diocesan websites and public accounts are in the names of church members or network management. If the draft measures are approved, all these websites could be shut down.
The draft also states that any overseas organisations or individuals, even if they are established in China, may not engage in Internet religious information services.
In addition, the names of Internet religious information services cannot contain the words China, National, Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholic and Christian, nor the names of religious groups, religious institutions and religious venues.
Internet religious information shall not violate the principle of religious independence and self-management and shall not conduct commercial propaganda, distribution and transmission of religious articles, religious internal information publication and illegal publication in the name of religion, according to the draft measures.
Only those religious faculty members of religious groups, institutions and venues that have obtained a permit are allowed to preach on their own online platforms under real-name management. Other organisations and individuals are not allowed to preach, give lectures or forward links to any content. 
Philip said authorities have already imposed restrictions on evangelisation in real life and now are regulating the Internet, which seriously violates freedom of speech and religious belief.
Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the Christian Times that the measures were introduced after China’s president, Xi Jinping, raised questions about managing religions on the iInternet in 2016.
He also said that religious information defined by the draft is wide-ranging and covers almost any form of network information and the broadcast of religious activities including worship, baptism and Buddha worship in the form of texts, images, audio and videos.
“The measures, plus the recent suppression of house Churches, reveal that authorities are completely obliterating the space for house Churches to publish information since the Internet is the main way in which house Churches preach,” Ying said.

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