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China imposes strict new religious affairs legislation

People pray during morning Mass in Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing (CNS photo/Roman Pilipey, EPA)

New stricter religious affairs regulations in China should prompt believers to become more aware of how to defend their rights, said Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Ucanews.com reported that the regulations, which take effect on February 1, were first released in draft form in 2014 before a fuller version was made public in 2017.

Critics maintained that concerns expressed about an eroding of religious freedom were largely ignored, ucanews.com reported.

Among stricter provisions are those covering official registration of places used for religious purposes, but there is some confusion about criteria to be applied.

Ying told ucanews.com that much would depend on how lower- and higher-level Communist officials implement the details of the amended Regulations for Religious Affairs. This would apply to open, officially recognized religious groupings as well as to so-called underground or house practitioners, he added.

For this reason, Ying said believers being subjected to the new regulations should become knowledgeable about legal options to challenge unfair treatment.

Religious affairs administrators, not least in the form of neighbourhood committees, are expected to have enhanced roles centred on “control more than protection.”

The new framework, as well as setting out requirements for sanctioned religious venues, deals with allowable activities such as education as well as property rights and legal liability.

Another area of religious practice that Ying believes authorities want to more tightly control is that of so-called “grey church” communities that are tacitly sanctioned by the government but have not registered.

The professor explained that, in the past, the government had tolerated some house or underground churches and, as long as they had not been specifically targeted by authorities, there was a lot of room for them to manoeuvre in governing their own affairs. Those who might not be willing to register could be subjected to closer monitoring, Ying said.