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Rules safeguard religious freedom in China
China Daily  Updated: 2004-12-20 08:43

Premier Wen Jiabao signed Decree No 426 of the State Council on November 30, 2004, to make public the Regulations on Religious Affairs. The following is a brief introduction to the regulations:

The regulations, which comprise 48 articles with seven chapters, are the first comprehensive ones of their kind concerning religious affairs promulgated by the Chinese Government. During the process of discussing and drafting the regulations, which lasted six years, the drafting department undertook deep investigation and research into religious affairs in China and conscientiously listened to comments from involved parties and experts in the fields of law, religion and human rights, especially comments from representatives of religious circles and those citizens who are religious.

The drafting department also solicited the views of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). All parties concerned reached a consensus on the regulations after these efforts. Furthermore, the experiences of some foreign countries in forming legislation on religious affairs were taken into account.

The regulations thoroughly implement the constitutional principle of ensuring citizens' freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is not only a fundamental right granted to Chinese citizens under the Constitution, but also a principal policy applied by the Chinese Government in dealing with religious issues.

In January 1994, the State Council of the People's Republic of China issued two separate administrative regulations concerning religious issues, namely the Regulations on Administration of Sites for Religious Activities and the Provisions on the Administration of Religious Activities of Aliens within the Territory of the People's Republic of China.

Since being made effective, the two administrative regulations have played an important role in earnestly protecting citizens' freedom and right of religious belief. However, with the rapid socio-economic development of China and the implementation of the basic strategy of governing the country according to law, the existing regulations concerning religious issues need to be improved. Additionally, China's religious leaders and the vast numbers of religious citizens are eagerly looking forward to quickening the pace of building a legal framework of religious affairs. Therefore, the promulgation and implementation of these regulations will be beneficial to the protection of Chinese citizens' freedom and rights of religious belief according to law, and to the respect and safeguarding of human rights as well.

It is provided in these regulations that Chinese citizens are able to enjoy the freedom of religious belief; the State shall protect normal religious activities, and safeguard the lawful rights and interests of religious bodies, sites for religious activities and citizens who believe in religion, and no one may infringe upon such freedoms and rights.

The regulations include provisions on the protection of the lawful rights and interests enjoyed by religious bodies, sites for religious activities and religious personnel. Under the regulations, a religious body has the rights to carry out activities pursuant to its constitution, organize religious activities, determine the qualifications of religious personnel, compile and print religious publications, establish and run institutes for religious education, select and send students for religious study abroad or accept foreign students for religious study in China, and develop external exchanges on the basis of friendship and equality.

According to the regulations, a site for religious activities is entitled to set up a management organization to exercise the democratic management of its own affairs, hold religious activities, operate public undertakings, accept donations from organizations and individuals at home or abroad, compile and print religious publications, and sell religious articles, artwork and religious publications.

Religious personnel are granted the rights to preside over religious activities, sort out religious scriptures, join the management organization of the site for religious activities, engage in religious and cultural study and participate in external exchange activities relating to religion.

Moreover, the regulations clearly provide that the legal property of a religious body or site for religious activities is protected by law, and no organizations or individuals may misappropriate, loot, privately divide up, damage, destroy, illegally seal up, impound, freeze, confiscate or dispose of such property, nor damage or destroy the cultural relics possessed or used by a religious body or site for religious activities.

Under the regulations, in cases where the houses or structures of a religious body or site of religious activity need to be demolished or relocated because of city planning or key construction projects, the demolisher shall consult with the religious body or the site for religious activities concerned, and shall rebuild the houses or structures demolished, or make compensation pursuant to the relevant provisions.

A religious body or site for religious activities may enjoy tax reduction or exemption in accordance with the relevant provisions of the State on taxation.

Furthermore, it is also provided in these regulations that anyone who compels citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religions, or who interferes with the normal religious activities of a religious body or site for religious activities, shall be ordered to make corrections by the religious affairs department. If such an act constitutes a violation of the public security administration, an administrative penalty according to law shall be handed down. Anyone who infringes upon the lawful rights and interests of a religious body, site for religious activities or religious citizen shall assume civil liability according to law; if a crime is thus constituted, it shall be investigated for criminal liability.

The new regulations establish some important systems. They establish the management systems of religious affairs involving State and public interests from the aspects of religious bodies, sites for religious activities, religious personnel and religious property.

1. Based on China's actual conditions and abundant experience from long-term practice, these regulations further standardize the registration system for the establishment of a religious body or site for religious activities.

2. These regulations provide for the conditions and the examination and approval procedures for establishing an institute for religious education since Article 82 of the Education Law of the People's Republic of China stipulates that regulations on education in religious schools shall be formulated by the State Council separately.

3. Based on the reality of the sites for religious activities in China, it is provided in these regulations that a site for religious activities shall establish and improve the management systems for personnel, finance, accounting, security, fire control, cultural relics protection, sanitation and epidemic prevention, etc, and shall exercise a democratic management system.

4. In light of the practice in determining the qualifications of religious personnel, the regulations stipulate that the qualifications of religious personnel shall be subject to the determination of religious bodies and be reported for the record to the religious affairs departments under the people's governments at or above the country level.

5. With a view to practically safeguard the lawful rights and interests of religious bodies and sites for religious activities and prevent any infringement on the economic rights and benefits of religious circles, these regulations provide that a religious body or site for religious activities may operate public undertakings and engage in business operation activities according to law, and the proceeds shall be subject to financial and accounting management and used for the activities that are commensurate with the purpose of the religious body or site for religious activities, or for public undertakings; that a religious body or site for religious activities shall implement the systems of the State for financial and accounting affairs and taxation administration; and that the remaining property after the cancellation or termination of a religious body or site for religious activities shall be used for the undertakings that are commensurate with its original purpose of establishment.

Administrative acts of governments are strictly standardized under the regulations. In light of the requirements of promoting law-based administration in an all round way to better safeguard citizens' lawful rights and interests, these regulations explicitly define the limits of power, scope, conditions and procedures for granting administrative licenses pursuant to the Administrative Licence Law of the People's Republic of China, making the administrative acts of governments open and transparent.

These regulations provide for the legal liabilities for administrative organs and their staff if they commit any illegal act. Under the regulations, anyone who refuses to accept a specific administrative act taken by the religious affairs department may apply for administrative reconsideration according to law or institute an administrative lawsuit.

In addition, the regulations provide that people's governments at various levels shall solicit the views of religious bodies, sites for religious activities and religious citizens, and co-ordinate the administration of religious affairs.

The regulations include provisions on stopping illegal and criminal activities carried out in the name of religion. In order to safeguard State and public interests, maintain harmony among and between religions and preserve social concordance, and better protect citizens' rights to freedom of religious belief and normal religious activities, these regulations provide that anyone who engages in illegal and criminal activities shall be stopped and punished according to law if they makes use of religion to endanger State or public security, infringe upon citizens' rights of the person and democratic rights, obstruct the administration of public order, or encroach upon public or private property.

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