03/19/2010, 00.00
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Beijing tightens controls over religious groups, now required to declare each financial transaction

New rules force religious groups to account for each financial operation in an annual report to the authorities. Many fear that the new regulations will allow the government to interfere even more in the affairs of religious groups.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s State Religious Affairs Administration has issued new, more restrictive financial accounting rules for religious organisations. For experts, the new regulations give the authorities more tools to limit the latter’s activities.

After decades during which religion was banned, China’s constitution now recognises the principle of freedom of religion. However, the authorities expect religious groups to operate within state-sanctioned organisations, set up along confessional lines but managed by government officials.

Each group must be formally authorised by such bodies, which can exercise a great deal of discretionary power over their members. In practical terms, this has given the Chinese Communist Party the power to appoint Catholic bishops as well as the top clergy of other denominations.

Under the new rules, all “religious institutions” must hire accountants and file annual financial reports to the authorities, Xinhua news agency said.

The rules are aimed at building a system under which the government can better supervise the finances of the nation's 130,000 religious institutions and help prevent embezzlement and the misappropriation of public funds, it said. After all, under Chinese law, religious organisations are seen as public institutions.

Few details of the rules have been release, but experts believe they are motivated by the same attitude that has led the government to ban fund raising by private groups without prior authorisation.

In both instances, the authorities want to control the activities of various groups and the best way is through constant supervision of their financial operations.

Religious persecution is widespread in China, especially against Tibetan monks and followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Officially sanctioned institutions are not spared either. In October, the US State Department released a report alleging continued religious persecution in a number of nations, including the People’s Republic of China.

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