The new measures are aimed primarily at Protestant house churches, but it is almost certain that they will be applied to Catholics and other religions and across the country. Clues are worth 3,000 yuan; informing on foreigners can earn up to 5,000 yuan; working with the police means up to 10,000 yuan. Teaching the catechism to one’s children at one’s home is now a dangerous proposition. Reports can be made by phone, in writing or in person.
Guangzhou (AsiaNews) – The Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs in Guangzhou issued some “measures” on 20 March offering incentives and cash prizes to anyone who reports on "illegal religious activities" in the city, such as underground community meetings, catechism, or interactions with foreign religious personnel.
Cash prizes vary – 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 yuan (US$ 450, US$ 750, US,500) – depending on the scale, details and importance of the report.
"The authorities could not have picked a better time, just before Easter to introduce these measures," a local priest told AsiaNews. "At this time, we often meditate on the passion of Jesus and Judas’ treachery for 30 pieces of silver. The Guangzhou government wants to turn people into many mini Judas.”
In all likelihood, the push to get people to snitch on each will especially affect underground Protestant communities, who are strongly rooted in Guangdong. Last December, the authorities shut down a local church, 5,000-member Rongguili Church; yet, Christians continue to meet and pray in private homes.
According to some Catholics, it is certain that the new measures will be applied to all religions, not only in Guangzhou but throughout the country.
In February 2018, the government adopted new regulations on religious activities that provide for fines and arrests for people, along with the seizure of buildings where "illegal religious activities" take place, i.e. not under the control of the Religious Affairs Office and local patriotic associations.
With the new measures, the authorities now have a wider array of means, such as recruiting neighbours, colleagues, and casual observers to spy. "Now here in China we live in a Big Brother atmosphere," said one newly baptised woman.
The news measures are divided into five parts specifying first of all the general rules.
Chapter two explains that people can file a report “by phone" (number to call provided); they can send letters with the “most specific details" by mail or hand deliver them to the appropriate office; they can go in “person” to the right bureau: either the Religious Affairs Bureau or the Public Security Bureau. Everyone is assured of "maximum confidentiality".
Chapter three goes into detail as to "what" must be reported. Topping the list are illegal religious activities as defined by the negative view of religion of the Chinese Communist Party. This includes “promoting, supporting and funding religious extremism; using religion to threaten national security, public safety, and national unity through secession and terrorism; violating civil and democratic rights; endangering the social order; violating public and private property."
Certain people and religious activities are listed as dangerous such as "those who establish religious places without authorisation; non-religious groups; non-religious institutions; non-religious places, temporary places of worship, religious activities and religious donations." This goes on to include "organising unauthorised religious courses, conferences, unauthorised pilgrimages.”
Under the new regulations, teaching catechism to one's children at home becomes an offence since young people under the age of 18 are not allowed to take part in the Mass or catechism.
Rewards follow. Those who supply only “clues” can expect 1,000 to 3,000 yuan; those who "provide evidence against foreign illegal religious organisations and the people involved" can get 3,000 to 5,000 yuan; those who "provide evidence and help in the investigation leading to the arrest of the leaders responsible for illegal foreign religious organisations" can receive 5,000 to 10,000 yuan.
Perhaps expecting a flood of informers, the measures state that if two people report the same case, only the first one gets the reward with the reporting date as proof of time.
The other two chapters explain that the rewards will be decided and delivered by the Municipal Office for Ethnic and Religious Affairs. Funds are made available by municipal authorities.