03/13/2004, 00.00
China
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"Freedom of religion" still under grip of socialist leadership

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The Chinese People's Policy Consulting Conference (CPPCC)  has made "freedom of religion" a part of the Chinese constitution after an amendment to Article 14 was passed yesterday, March 12, at the conference's final session.   

Religious sources in the country have already pointed out such a change does not signal greater tolerance of religious freedom.   

Based on the amendment –the 5th in 50 years – the CPPCC must also "back the government when dealing with religious issues that concern the law, insist on principles of independence and self-governance, and constructively adapt religion and socialist society to one another."    

 "Freedom of religion is not the same thing as the freedom to practice religion. Indeed there is no lessening of restrictions," said a religion scholar when criticizing the constitutional amendment. The amendment, he says, reflects the current trend in thinking which "adapts religion and socialist society to one another" under government leadership while dressing up the same old restrictions with new words.   

The CPPCC had promised great changes in the regulation of religious practices. The Conference meets each year together with the National People's Congress and advise politicians on policy changes, but often it must simply obey the instructions already set by government leaders.

The communist party exercises tight control over religious activities in the country. It prohibits meetings and proselytizing without prior government approval.  "Underground" religious communities refuse to subject themselves to such controls, making them objects of persecution and repression.  

Speaking at the concluding session was CPPCC chairman Jia Qinglin who stressed his support for the constitutional amendments, his commitment to the principle of "one country, two systems" for Hong Kong and Macao and reunification efforts with Taiwan based on the same philosophy.  (MR)

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