Local Governments Target "Illegal" Worship Sites and "Illegal" Religious Activities Throughout Fall
Local governments in China reported in fall 2008 on measures to prevent "illegal" religious gatherings and curb other "illegal" religious activities, continuing longstanding controls over religious practice in China. As noted in Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Annual Reports (see, for example, reports from 2007 and 2008), religious communities must apply to register with the government and must submit to state control over their affairs. Registered groups must receive government approval to establish sites of worship.
Local governments in China reported in fall 2008 on measures to prevent "illegal" religious gatherings and curb other "illegal" religious activities, continuing longstanding controls over religious practice in China. As noted in Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Annual Reports (see, for example, reports from 2007 and 2008), religious communities must apply to register with the government and must submit to state control over their affairs. Registered groups must receive government approval to establish sites of worship. Religious and spiritual groups that do not meet registration requirements and groups that choose not to submit to government control through registration risk harassment, detention, closure of sites of worship, and other abuses. At the same time, variations in government implementation of its policy toward religion have enabled a number of unregistered and unrecognized religious communities to operate in China. Reports from fall 2008 indicate, however, that such groups remain vulnerable to negative repercussions, as does any religious activity deemed illicit by implementing officials. Recent reports include:
- Authorities in Hechuan district, Chongqing municipality have taken a series of measures aimed at curbing "illegal" religious sites, according to an October 14 report on the Hechuan district government Web site. The report outlined a series of "problems" spurring a six-month campaign starting in October to root out "illegal" venues for worship. Noting the district had 364 "illegal" Buddhist sites, 15 "illegal" Daoist sites, and 88 "illegal" Protestant sites, the report said that the people connected to "illegal" sites were mainly rural residents with a "low level of culture" and who lacked the capacity to differentiate the character of religion. The report also expressed concern about "anti-China political forces" using Christianity to infiltrate, and it criticized "superstitious" aspects of Buddhism and Daoism. The report outlined a five-point plan to address "illegal" sites:
- Merge unapproved religious sites with religious activity sites compliant with the rules. In cases of illegal sites, channel religious believers to legal sites.
- Carry out "transformation through reeducation" of members of unauthorized Protestant meeting places. Self-proclaimed preachers who meet certain requirements, such as willingness to submit to government oversight, may be channeled into the management sphere for volunteer religious preachers.
- For illegal sites not granted permission to become legal, demolish or change their use within a set time period.
- Ban Buddhist and Daoist temples and statues constructed without permission by "superstitious" figures and ban unauthorized Protestant meeting places. Have public security and other offices "strike hard" against those who persist in their activities and commit crimes.
- Approve sites that meet certain conditions.
- The Wuhan municipal government in Hunan province has drafted legislation on religion that includes a provision aimed at curbing citizens' freedom to gather for worship in private homes, according to a November 21 report on the Wuhan Municipal People's Congress Web site. As noted in the CECC 2007 Annual Report, although the central government states there are no registration requirements for religious gatherings within the home, public officials continue to target private gatherings and worship sites for closure, including house churches and unauthorized Buddhist and Daoist temples, mosques, Catholic meeting sites, and other worship sites. Some local government regulations have included provisions allowing citizens to "live a religious life" within the home but have not explicitly guaranteed the right of religious communities to hold worship services in homes and other private sites. In order to "solve" the problem of unauthorized religious gatherings, the Wuhan draft legislation stipulates that religious "members of the family" may engage in religious activities in the home, thereby excluding the possibility of wider participation.
- Work to "transform" and "expand the patriotism" of "underground Catholic forces" is one of the most important tasks of the Fuzhou city, Jiangxi province United Front Work Department (UFWD), according to a September 25 report from the Fuzhou Party Committee UFWD Web site. The UFWD is the Communist Party department that oversees religious communities in China. Noting that the problem of activities by "underground Catholic forces" is particularly acute and exerts a "severe negative impact on the social stability" of the city, the report also expressed concern about unauthorized Protestant preaching, the unauthorized construction of Buddhist temples, and the presence of "superstitious beliefs." The report called for strengthening the "united front" between the Communist Party and religious figures.
- The director of the central government's 6-10 Office, which monitors and suppresses organizations deemed to be "heretical" or "cults," called for strengthening the suppression of "cults" and increasing control over unauthorized Protestant sites during a visit to Siyang county, Suqian city, Jiangsu province, according to a December 8 report from the Suqian Party Committee UFWD Web site. A report on Suqian city's work to regulate religion, posted October 20 on the Jiangsu Ethnic Affairs Commission and Religious Affairs Bureau Web site, cited government statistics stating that 90 percent of participants in "cult" activities have a background in believing in Protestantism. (Elsewhere, government officials have equated some Muslim activity with cults, while continuing to apply the same label to Falun Gong. See a 2007 report from Jing (Jinghe) county, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), posted on the Jing Peace Net, calling for "striking hard" against the "infiltration and sabotage" activities of such "cults" as Falun Gong and the "Islam Liberation Party." See a CECC analysis for more information on recent repression of religion in the XUAR.)
The reports from local governments come amid overseas reports that authorities in China have carried out wide-scale closures of house churches and detained some participants. See two articles from December 3 (1, 2), and a December 4 article from the China Aid Association (CAA) for more information. Authorities have also continued their harassment of house church leaders, including Zhang Mingxuan, whom authorities detained on multiple occasions in the past year. Henan province officials gave Zhang an order issued by the Ministry of Civil Affairs on November 28 that bans Zhang's Chinese House Church Alliance, according to a November 29 report from CAA. As authorities continue to link some forms of Protestant practice to "cult" activities, on October 30, authorities in Neixiang county, Henan province, sentenced house church leader Zhu Baoguo to one year of reeducation through labor after accusing him of leading an "evil cult," according to November 18 and December 2 CAA reports. He was released on medical parole on December 2, as noted in the December 2 report. Wang Weiliang, serving a three-year sentence for protesting a church destruction, received release on medical parole on November 25, according to the same report.
For more information on religious freedom in China, see Section II--Freedom of Religion, in the CECC 2008 Annual Report.