Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. (Photo: Xinhua)
China revealed a draft guideline on regulating online religious information on Monday, which observers called very "timely," as religious information on the Chinese internet is chaotic due to the illegal promotion of some extreme forces and cults.
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 says.
The guideline, aiming to maintain religious and social harmony, requires religious organizations, institutions and venues, engaging in online religious information services, to apply for licenses from provincial religious affairs departments, it says.
Those engaging in online religious information services are prohibited from business promotions in the name of religion, distributing religious supplies and publications, establishing religious organizations and venues and developing believers of religions.
Practitioners in online religious services are also banned from inciting subversion, opposing the leadership of the Communist Party of China, overthrowing the socialist system and promoting extremism, terrorism and separatism, according to the draft guideline.
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 Global Times 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 organizations, 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.
According to the guideline, religious organizations, 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.
Moreover, any other organizations or individuals are not allowed to preach or repost the related religious contents on the Internet.
No organizations or individuals are allowed to livestreaming or broadcast religious activities including praying, burning incense, worshipping or receiving baptism online in the form of text, photo, audio or video.
"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," according to Zhu.