The ban on unauthorized online religious activities took effect in China on Monday, March 1, according to a report from rights group International Christian Concern (ICC).
The Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Service was adopted jointly with the Ministry of State Security and other agencies last year.
The State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) announced in December that it would ban what it described as “unauthorized online services” for religious activities.
The ban cut off many house churches from a “crucial resource in their ability to preach the gospel,” said the report.
Religious groups seeking to hold online activities, such as streaming or publishing sermons, should first get an Internet Religious Information Service Permit, said the report.
Organizations or individuals are also prohibited to raise funds online “in the name of religion.”
ICC said the measures “represent a direct assault on so much of China’s informal and unregulated religious activity.”
It said that many house churches in China operate outside of the sanctioned religious organizations commissioned by the Chinese government’s SARA, either the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) or the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA).
Christian churches that operate outside of these organizations have faced severe harassment from Chinese authorities, said the ICC report.
It said that online religious activities will now be under even closer scrutiny by Chinese authorities, making the operation of a house church or a non-sanctioned church “much more dangerous.”
The report said the measures “will also impact … state-sanctioned churches, as their permitted status places them front-and-center for government oversight online.”
“This is extremely concerning given the already strict guidance for religious clergy to follow, including the promotion of national unity, love of country, and love of party from the pulpit,” said the report.