Observant people in the Chinese province of Henan are now required by local authorities to jump over one more hoop to practice their faith: They must register on a government app to attend religious services and make online reservations before participating in worship.
Called “Smart Religion,” the app was developed by the province’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission, according to ChinaAid, a Texas, U.S.-based Christian charity group.
The app feeds the data to an online platform that collects personal information details such as a person’s name, date of birth, telephone number, government I.D. number, permanent residence address, and occupation.
Henan has one of the largest Christian populations in China, and charity groups such as ChinaAid are concerned that the online registration requirement for worship is the latest form of persecution suffered by Chinese Christians.
Citing a recent news report in the Henan Daily newspaper, ChinaAid said that on February 24, Zhang Leiming, member of the Standing Committee of the Henan Provincial Party Committee, met with the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission. Zhang told the commission that it was necessary to “strictly manage religion in a comprehensive way, [and] unite and guide the majority of religious believers to follow the Chinese Communist Party unswervingly.”
China recognizes just five official religions—Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Each faith is represented in public life by a state-sanctioned “patriotic religious association”—and only members of these organizations are allowed to register with the government for the purpose of holding religious services.
Although the ruling Chinese Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, it closely monitors religious activities, partly by permitting only religious organizations approved by the state.
In 2017, China’s cabinet introduced new rules aimed at regulating religion, updating policies dating back to 2005. The government claimed the restrictions were necessary to strengthen national security by “curbing illegality, blocking extremism, resisting infiltration and attacking crime.”
That same year, government authorities demolished a Catholic Church, calling it an “illegal structure,” and thrashing parishioners who resisted the building’s destruction. Forty people were detained and the property of parishioners and construction workers was confiscated.
In a 2019 report on international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department noted that reports of deaths in custody continued to come in from China and that “the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.”
The Church of Scientology publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.