Authorities in China shut down the website of the Presbyterian Church in Shanghai because of its reported failure to get government approval.
Rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) said the Church has become “the latest victim” of China’s tightened control of cyberspace for religious groups.
Shanghai’s Xinguang Presbyterian Church was already listed as an illegal social organization by the government in July 2021.
The Church was among ten “illegal social organizations” whose websites were scheduled to be shut down with the implementation of a ban on unauthorized online religious activities.
China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology have continued to crack down on illegal social organizations in accordance with the government’s directives.
The joint operation has cleared the websites and the media accounts of the ten illegal social organizations.
As China continues to wrestle with the pandemic and restricts Christian activities throughout the country, even provinces that have COVID-19 under control are affected.
“Yet it is still rare for the Ministry of Civil Affairs to publicly disband a Church as an illegal social organization,” said the ICC report, adding that the Xinguang Presbyterian Church’s case stands out because most unsanctioned house churches have been clamped down at a local level.
The ban on unauthorized online religious activities took effect in China on March 1 this year after 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 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 ICC.
Religious groups seeking to hold online activities, such as streaming or publishing sermons, should first get an Internet Religious Information Service Permit.
Organizations or individuals are also prohibited to raise funds online “in the name of religion.”