Friday, September 30, 2016

Priests and faithful in China critical of new regulations on religious activities

The new regulations on religious activities that will be launched on 7 October is a contradiction in itself: while exalting the religious freedom enjoyed by every Chinese citizen, guaranteed in theory by the constitution,  in fact they are a method "to restrict the religious freedom of the people”.
 
Earlier this month, the State Council issued draft regulations aimed at controlling every aspect of the life of the religious communities, groups, personnel, places of worship, buildings and statues.  They also warned against "terrorist" and "separatist" actions (Muslims in Xinjiang and Tibetan Buddhists) while demanding that there be no "ties with foreign countries", but full independence.

The government has “consulted" the population and to date almost all of the opinions and the comments it has received are negative. Nevertheless, as a Party member commented to AsiaNews, the proof will "really lie in the final text", which will broke no correction.

Fr. Chen (a priest of the north-east China), said the Regulations are reminiscent of “a Chinese proverb which goes: To call a horse a deer. In the reign of the second emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), the prime minister Zhao Gao, obsessed with ambition, thought of a way to prove his power over his ministers. So he called a horse a deer, and no minister dared to say otherwise or discuss it. On the contrary, what he said was repeated by many”.

Similarly, although since 2005 - when the first regulations were implemented at the national level – criticism has continued to rain down about the limits posed to religious freedom, the State continues to claim that they are a means to support this freedom. "The State Constitution - notes Fr. Chen - states that all citizens enjoy the right to religious freedom, the Regulations should not appear as a way to restrict the religious freedom of the people".

In fact, says another priest from central China, "the Regulations on religious activities are a government control on religions. They way in which these regulations have been revised, shows that they are there to control religions. It is just an old wine in new wineskins (a change of form but not of substance), a simple cliché”.

This gap between the Constitution and regulations appears in several other criticisms. Vincent, a Guangzhou layman, points out that "China is a country where state and religion are separated; because religious freedom and religious beliefs are a personal matter. 

Regulation of the activities of religious groups should be based on the Constitution and the Criminal Code and Law on religious laws; and it should not be imposed on these groups, especially priests and religious personnel to enter those organizations not linked to religion or incompatible with the faith [the Patriotic Associations - ed]”.

Some question the authority of the State Council in religious matters. Interviewed by RFA, the Protestant Christian lawyer Li Guisheng, says: "The government, the State Council in theory would not have the power to restrict the constitutional rights of citizens". 

It would be good not to always use only regulations, but draft a law on religious freedom. But "the State Council - says Li - is part of the executive and not be able to make laws. Only the National People's Congress can do so when it is in plenary session”.

For Vincent, "the State Council, cannot restrict religious activities in such an illegal fashion".

The need for a true and proper law is perceived by many, such as the academic Liu Peng.

Such a law would undermine the difference between "normal religious activities" and "illegal" (those of the underground community, not recognized by the government), protecting the rights and interests of domestic churches [that are deemed "illegal" by the current regulations].

 In addition, the law "should recognize the existence and the interests of those minorities outside of the five major religions. In China, in fact, the government only recognizes Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestant Christianity and Catholic Christianity. 

Other religions (Orthodox Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, etc ...) live in a legal limbo, even though they are real religious groups. 

"In no other nation in the world - concludes Vincent - can people only believe in religions that the government decides!".

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