Beijing, China …. [ANN Staff]

The People’s Republic of China will implement a series of new rules in January safeguarding religious freedom for those who worship in state-approved churches. The Xinhua News Agency and China Daily newspapers, both official government news sources, reported on these changes.

The China Daily reports the regulations are “the first comprehensive ones of their kind concerning religious affairs promulgated by the Chinese Government,” and are the result of a six-year development period. The rules “thoroughly implement” the concept of freedom of religion, the newspaper asserted.

“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,” the report said.

“We can already appreciate good intentions, and now we will see how it affects the lives of millions and millions of believers in China,” said Dr. John Graz, secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association and director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Most hopeful for people of faith in China — officially an atheistic state — is wording that states no one can compel another person to believe in a religious teaching — or not to believe in one. Violators can be subject to civil and criminal penalties. It is also illegal for anyone to appropriate the property of a religious group, which can establish its own management committee for such properties.

Some critics of the Chinese government’s moves say the measure, signed into law by Premier Wen Jinbao, only applies to religious organizations that are legally recognized by the Chinese government. In general, such congregations are independent of foreign affiliation and submit to the authority of government-approved associations.

“We have to recognize that in some parts of China there is more religious freedom than in other parts. We hope that China will continue to approve its level of religious freedom in all its territory,” Graz added.

Copyright © 2004 by Adventist News Network.

Image by Image by ANN. ANN photo/2004

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