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New regulations on clergy described as 'one more weapon' to restrict religious communities in China

New administrative regulations have been imposed on religious staff in China, generating concerns from religious leaders and human rights lawyers.

The new regulations include specific requirements regarding the qualifications of religious staff. One of the article's, Article 16, states that Catholic bishops must be approved and ordained by the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference. Whereas article 15 states that Tibetan Buddhism’s succession of living Buddhas should be regulated in accordance with the Regulations on Religious Affairs. 

The Union of Catholic Asian News claimed that the regulations "indirectly assert that the election of Catholic bishops will be done by the state-approved system under the Chinese Communist Party's direction and the Vatican and Pope Francis will have no role in it and it runs contrary to the laborious China-Vatican deal on appointment of Catholic bishops, signed in September 2018."

Under Article 27, senior leaders will remain in their position for a term of three to five years. After this, the individual must again submit their personal information to the authorities. In practice, this could be a problem for religious traditions where leaders are appointed for an indefinite period or for life; in addition, religious leaders will be aware that if they criticise or fail to obey regulations, the authorities may refuse their application to re-register, as reported by CSW.

One human rights lawyer described the measures to CSW as "one more weapon in [the Chinese authorities'] arsenal to limit or further persecute the religious communities."

The regulations also include requirements that clergy "support the leadership of the Communist Party." The regulations go on to stipulate that clergy must not "endanger national security" or be "dominated by foreign forces." These terms are consistent with other regulations on religion, including the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.

CSW's Founder President Mervyn Thomas said in a statement: "These regulations have concerning implication for freedom of religion or belief in China; however, as with the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs, what is even more significant than the regulations themselves is the context in which they are being introduced. Religious communities across the country are facing increasing pressure to conform to a Party-approved version of religious practice. In some cases, it is subtle; in others, it is an outright assault on communities' rights and freedoms, as it is in the Uyghur Region. In any case, where churches and other communities have resisted this pressure, their leaders have faced harassment, threats and even prison sentences. We call on the Chinese government to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief for all citizens of China, in line with their universal human rights."

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