(Qingdao City, Shandong Province—Feb. 05, 2021) On January 29, the Three-Self Patriotic Association and Christian Association of Qingdao City, Shandong Province, published a copy of the notice relating Restrictions on Churches in China’s Shandong Province: A ban on live broadcasts as well as releases of preaching audios and videos. Two days earlier, the United Front Work Department of the Shandong Provincial Party Committee issued a notice prohibiting Christians in the province from using the internet to broadcast Christian activities.
Shandong Qingdao’s Three-Self Patriotic Association and Christian Association’s notice to each jurisdiction on January 14 states that in accordance with the State Council and the National Health Commission of China, officials have passed down essential instructions on the [COVID-19] outbreak situation in various regions. In accordance with the unified requirements of Shangdong Qingdao’s Provincial Party Committee and United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Municipal Party Committee, all Christian churches and gathering venues in Qingdao will be closed on January 14, and all church activities suspended
During the suspension period, the notice stressed, the Three-Self Patriotic Organizations in all districts must strictly abide by the requirements of the local UFWD and departments in charge of religious affairs; to competently follow measures of prevention and control and to maintain social stability. Authorities are to resolutely crackdown on illegal gathering activities. Further notice will be given when CCP authorities permit activities to resume.
Directives regarding the management of “religious venues” notify the sub-departments of every district’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement groups to abide by the relevant requirements of the “Regulations on Religious Affairs.” Groups are to adhere to the unified instructions of the United Front Work Department’s provincial and municipal party committees—and regulate the security of internet public opinion in the Christian sector; prohibit all publication and spread of preaching videos/audios in the post-pandemic period, to prevent illegal missionary activities on the internet to be exploited.
On February 23, 2020, the Shandong Three-Self Patriotic Association and Christian Association notified all its sub-committees, requesting Christians to stop live preaching activities on the internet and prohibited private gatherings/services. Although the notice mentioned that Christians be “appropriately considerate [of] the beliefs and feelings of believers, and actively guide them in other ways without gathering together,” it did not state what methods could be used to guide them.
In September 2018, China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs issued the draft for “Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services,” stipulating that:
no organizations nor individuals are permitted to [produce] live broadcasts by means of texts, pictures, audios and videos on the internet, etc., including writing religious texts, worship services, mass, baptisms, and religious activities.
After the release of the 2018 draft, chat rooms and other internet platforms reportedly received warnings about using sensitive words such as “Amen” and “Jesus.”
Currently, to help restrict the spread of the coronavirus, Christians in many countries, including China, cooperate in disease prevention and control measures, suspending regular meetings in church buildings, and switching to online (live) sessions. Despite Christians’ compliance, however, the United Front Work Department of the Shandong Provincial Party Committee additionally targets Believers in the province, adding more and more and more restrictions to Christian activities.
The recent regulations restricting religious activities lend to the public impression that CCP authorities use COVID-19 pandemic constraints to not only ban Christian activities but to also try to further curb the spread of Christianity.
Gao Zhensaim Special Correspondent of ChinaAid
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