(China—April 4, 2022, ChinaAid) Since the Chinese Communist Party’s “Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services” came into effect on March 1, Christian WeChat accounts and groups became the main area of suppression. Early Rain Covenant Church’s Ran Yunfei has a WeChat group called “How to read.” Group members recommended book titles and voted on them with WeChat’s built-in voting. During the most recent round, group members recommended the following books:
· The Defense of the Faith by Cornelius Van Til
· The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
· Philosophy of Revelation by Herman Bavinck
· Tradition and the Individual Talent by T. S. Eliot
· The End of Economic Man: The Origins of Totalitarianism by Peter Drucker
· The Fate of Russia by Nikolai Berdyaev
· The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
· Exposition of the Christian Faith by Saint Ambrose
However, the voting was not able to pass WeChat’s censorship, showing the following message:
“The word ‘Christ’ you are trying to publish violates regulations on Internet Information Services, including but not limited to the following categories:
· pornography, gambling, and drug abuse
· excessive marketing
The issue can be resolved through one of the following:
1. Edit your content
2. Submit for review”
Unfortunately, the group administrator had to replace part of the word “Christ” to pass censorship.
This WeChat reading group was established five years ago. Group members read through one book a month. At the end of each month, Ran Yunfei sends out audio messages to help other members better understand the reading. On February 11, before the new measures took effect, he and many Christians were temporarily banned from posting on WeChat. Christian lawyer Zhang Peihong’s WeChat account was permanently deleted.
On December 20, 2021, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs published the “Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services” on its official website. It was created through joint efforts of five departments: State Administration for Religious Affairs, Cyberspace Administration of China, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Public Security, and Ministry of State Security.
According to the regulations set forth from the administrative measures, no organization or individual may conduct any religious information service on the Internet unless permission is obtained from a provincial government department. It also explicitly listed permissive conditions, required documents, application processing time, and so on. Only religious groups, schools, and organizations with valid permits can conduct online sermons. Unless the conditions specified by article 15 and article 16 are met, no organization and individual may teach on the Internet, conduct religious education and training, publish sermons, repost or link related content, organize religious activities on the Internet, or live broadcast or record and broadcast religious ceremonies. No organization or individual may raise funds on the Internet in the name of religion.
According to the measures, prior administrative authorization is required before any religious content can be published on any social media or self-media. If Internet religious activities (text, pictures, and videos related to religion are treated as religious activities) happen without prior administrative authorization, the Internet Service Provider must cooperate with religious affairs departments and public security organs to terminate the service; individuals and organizations who perform online religious activities without an “Internet Religious Information Service License” shall be listed as untrustworthy individuals or organizations.
Each province has started accepting applications for permits while accepting applications for “Information Censorship” training. These seminars improve a religious information auditor’s ability to censor religious information and ensure religious information on the Internet conforms to the central government’s political requirements. The trainers must be students or faculties of a registered official religious school and pass a background check.
The government plans to grant the “Internet Religious Information Service License” to registered official religious groups, religious schools, and religious venues that complete the training.
The content posted by these individuals, groups, or organizations must conform to the government’s political agendas like “harmonious society, advancement of the times, healthy and civilized”, and must guide believers to “love the country and abide by the law”.
Anyone who posts content with the purpose of “inciting the state power using religion”, “objecting to the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership,” “obstructing the socialism system,” “damaging national reunification,” or “harming the unity of various ethnic groups and social stability” shall be punished.
Online religious preachers must be registered with authorities.
Each province started exams for the new license in mid-March.