China is all set to regulate online religious activities with new official guidelines to crackdown on "illegal promotion" of some "extreme forces and cults", the Communist government's latest move to ramp up control over religious affairs.
A draft guideline on regulating religious information on the internet was released on Monday, which observers called very "timely" as religious information on the Chinese internet is "chaotic" due to illegal promotion of some extreme forces and cults, state-run Global Times reported.
The online religious information includes religious doctrines, culture, knowledge and activities promoted through instant messages and various social media platforms in the form of texts, photos, audio and video messages, the guideline said.
According to the guideline, religious organisations, institutions and venues which have obtained licenses are allowed to preach and offer religious training only on their own network platforms built upon real-name registration systems.
No organisation or individuals are allowed to live streaming or broadcast religious activities including praying, burning incense, worshipping or receiving baptism online in the form of text, photo, audio or video, it said.
Practitioners in online religious services are also banned from inciting subversion, opposing the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) overthrowing the socialist system and promoting extremism, terrorism and separatism, according to the draft guideline, the Global Times report said.
Officially the CPC adheres to atheism and mandates all its members to remain atheists.
The plan to issue new guidelines comes amid reports of large-scale detention of Uyghur Muslims in the volatile Xinjiang province in newly-set up education camps.
Last month, China dismissed a UN human rights panel’s allegations of confining a large number of Uyghur Muslims in the volatile Xinjiang province to indoctrination camps, saying it was based on unverified information.
The UN's Geneva-based Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was alarmed by "numerous reports of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities" being detained in Xinjiang region and called for their immediate release.
The new guideline, aiming to maintain "religious and social harmony", requires religious organisations, institutions and venues, engaging in online religious information services, to apply for licenses from provincial religious affairs departments, the draft guidelines said.
Those engaging in online religious information services are prohibited from business promotions in the name of religion, distributing religious literature and publications, establishing religious organisations and venues and developing believers of religions, it said.
Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told the daily that regulating online religious information is not to limit religious freedom, instead, it is to protect the legal rights of religious people and religious freedom.
"Some organisations, in the name of religion, deliberately exaggerate and distort religious doctrine online, and some evil forces, such as terrorism, separatism and religious extremism, and cults, also attempt to expand their online influences," Zhu said.
"Religious activities should be held at religious venues according to China's regulations on religious affairs," Shen Guiping, a religious expert at the Central Institute of Socialism in Beijing, told the Global Times.
Shen said that broadcasting religious activities online is illegal.
The guideline, published on the chinalaw.gov.cn, China's legislative information website, is soliciting public opinion from Monday to October 9.
"The biggest challenge of the guideline lies in its long-term implementation, as religious information, due to its broad content, is difficult for ordinary people to verify its authenticity," Zhu said.