China: Online Register for “Official” Clergy Against “Fake Religious Personnel”

May 28, 2023
A meeting organized by the State Bureau of Religious Affairs

As of today, an online registry is collecting information on all Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim clergy “who have been recognized in accordance with law.” It is an operation presented by the State Bureau of Religious Affairs as making “religious affairs more open and protects religious believers against ‘fake religious personnel.’”

“Users can access the service only by identifying themselves with their telephone number and so will provide the authorities with another tool to monitor their religious activity.” And at the same time, it provides a means of discrediting the priests of the underground communities who, in good conscience, refuse to register with official bodies controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The register, operational from May 23, is a similar tool to the one introduced on February 22 to verify the identity of Buddhist and Taoist monks. A cleric’s identity can be checked on the State Bureau of Religious Affairs’ website and on those of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (ACPC), and similar organizations for Protestant and Muslim communities.

For each cleric searched, a file opens containing a photograph, as well as personal data, religious title and official registration number. The use of apps as an additional tool to control religious activity in China is a far from negligible possibility.

It should be recalled that, in Henan, believers of all faiths are already obliged to register to attend religious services: this applies to churches and mosques, as well as Buddhist temples. They must fill out a form available on the “Smart Religion” application, developed by the Provincial Commission for Ethnic and Religious Affairs.

This form requires data such as name, telephone number, identity card, permanent residence, occupation, and date of birth.

As for the preventing “scams” by "fake religious personnel,” the China Christian Daily recently reported the case of three Christian women - Li Bingrong, Xie Lihong, and Huang Qiuyan - arrested on suspicion of “fraud” in the city of Suining, Sichuan Province.

According to reports, all three are reportedly bank employees and simply helped deposit and transfer donations to a Christian organization. The accusation of fraud is one of the tools of persecution against “house churches,” that is, evangelical communities that are not officially registered.

Communist Party officials employ this accusation against many pastors and lay believers in order to limit religious activity outside of “official” communities. Now the CCP and the ACPC as self-proclaimed guardians of the rectitude of the exercise of religion and worship.