With a highly detailed list of 48 rules and norms, the government of China has published new regulations on religious personnel, place and activities, an Italy-based news agency reported Monday. The new guidelines, which will come into effect next year on Mar. 1, replace the 1994 regulations for the administration of religious policies.
AsiaNews, which received and translated the text from a Chinese source, said the first chapter affirms the state's commitment to "guaranteeing religious freedom and harmony between religions and in society." The text further states that no one is to be discriminated for his faith or lack thereof.
The regulations go as far as condemning the abuse of power by local authorities or the Religious Affairs Office, who have been known to expropriate property, levy taxes and make arrests on the basis of their own personal interests, while pocketing the goods and taxes extorted from religious communities under the threat of expropriations and imprisonment.
And now, according to Article 28 of the new regulations, “If a government official for Religious Affairs, while carrying out his duties, abuses his authority or uses if for personal purposes, such person commits a crime punishable by law. In the case of minor infractions, disciplinary action and fines will be applied."
However, for those who carry out religious activity without permission the new regulations allow for expropriation of goods, fines, penal sanctions, demolition of places of worship, disbarment from religious office as penalties.
According to the text, permission is required for each place or person involved in worship. The text also sets the conditions for the opening of new places of worship, educational structures, and religious activities, which must all register with relevant government offices. "For example, to build a place of worship, a group must obtain permission from the local government (xian), then from the next level of government (shi), then from the provincial government (shen). At this point, construction can begin. Upon completion and before the building is put into use, another government permit is required," AsiaNews reported. "Meanwhile, the Religious Affairs office must check that places of worship respect laws, regulations and the constitution and must verify all the activities in and around the group."
The regulations also specifically set out the bureaucratic procedures for registration, calling into play local, provincial and national governments, and setting the time frame for the presentation of applications and the rendering of decisions (which must be within 30 days of the application). "Such procedures became necessary as numerous non-official Protestant communities have complained that their applications for registration are simply not accepted and thus are turned down without being processed," AsiaNew reported.
According to the agency, the biggest discrimination is that believers can exercise their religious freedom only if officially registered. In Beijing, religious freedom is not an inalienable right, but is conceded by the state.