The National Religious Affairs Administration answered the reporter's questions on the recent Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services which will come into effect on March 1.
In order to standardize the administration of Internet religious affairs and implement the relevant provisions of the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs, five official departments, namely, the National Religious Affairs Administration (NRAA), the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security, recently announced the Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services (hereinafter referred to as the Measures). Recently, the relevant person in charge of the NRAA answered the reporter's questions on the issues related to the Measures.
1. What is the background of the promulgation of the Measures?
Answer: In recent years, Internet websites, applications, forums, blogs, microblogs, public accounts, instant messaging tools, live webcasts, etc. involving religious content have sprung up one after another, and there have been some notable outstanding problems. They are mainly as follows: some organizations and individuals set up virtual religious activity venues and religious institutions on the Internet to engage in religious activities, carry out religious education, which disrupted and impacted the normal order of religious affairs management; some engage in various forms of illegal fund-raising and feudal superstition activities on the Internet under the banner of religion, which harmed people's physical and mental health and property safety. In addition, some made statements on the Internet that violate the Party's religious policies, incite religious fanaticism, slander and attack religions, or provoke inter-religious conflicts, which affected the normal order in the religious field and social harmony and stability. Some other publicized religiously extremist thoughts and separatist thoughts on the Internet, encouraged and planned violent terrorist activities, undermined national unity and political stability in China, which endangered national security.
The Internet is not a "special zone for religious activities" or an "enclave of religious opinions". The Internet Security Law of the People's Republic of China and the Administrative Measures for Internet Information Services stipulate the Internet matters related to religions, while the Regulations on Religious Affairs rule the principle of engaging in Internet religious information services and set up administrative licensing matters. In order to implement the above-mentioned laws and regulations, it is necessary to refine the relevant management measures through the formulation of the Measures, making specific provisions on the conditions, authority, procedures and time limit of Internet religious information service license, and clarify the management responsibilities of relevant departments.
From December 3rd to 4th, the National Conference on Religious Work was held in Beijing, which emphasized the need to strengthen the management of religious affairs on the Internet. Formulating the Measures is an important way to implement the spirit of the National Conference on Religious Work, an urgent need to ensure China's network security and ideological security, and an inevitable requirement to upgrade the modernization level of the religious affairs governance system and governance capacity.
2. What is the legal basis of the Measures?
Answer: The legal basis of the Measures mainly includes the Internet Security Law of the People's Republic of China, the Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services, and the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.
Article 8 of the Internet Security Law stipulates, "The national network information department is responsible for overall coordination of network security work and related supervision and management work. The competent department of telecommunications under the State Council, the public security department, and other relevant organs shall be responsible for network security protection, supervision, and management within the scope of their respective duties in accordance with the provisions of this law and other relevant laws and administrative regulations."
Article 5 of the Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services stipulates, "Anyone who is engaged in Internet information services such as news, publishing, education, medical care, medicines, and medical devices must be examined and approved by the relevant competent authorities according to laws, administrative regulations and relevant state regulations, and shall be examined and approved by the relevant competent authorities when applying for a business license or performing filing procedures."
Article 47 of the Regulations on Religious Affairs states, "Internet religious information services shall be handled in accordance with the relevant regulations of the state on the administration of Internet information services after being examined and approved by the religious affairs department of the government at or above the provincial level."
3. What are the main contents of the Measures?
Answer: The Measures consists of 36 articles in five chapters, which are divided into general rules, Internet religious information service license, Internet religious information service management, legal responsibilities, and supplementary provisions.
The Measures clarifies that engagement in Internet religious information services should apply to the religious affairs department of the local government at or above the provincial level, and stipulates the licensing conditions, application materials, names, processing time limits, etc.
The Measures stipulates the contents that Internet religious information must not contain; standardizes the subjects, ways, methods, contents, participants, etc. of online lectures and religious education and training in religious circles. In addition, no other organization or individual may preach on the Internet, carry out religious education and training, organize religious activities, conduct fund-raising in the name of religion, broadcast live or record religious ceremonies, publish lectures and sermons or forward or link to related contents.
The Measures requires that the platform that obtains the Internet religious information license should sign an agreement with the registered users of the platform to verify the real identity information of the registered users. The unlicensed platform shall not provide Internet religious information publishing services for users.
The Measures clarifies the supervisory responsibilities of the National Religious Affairs Administration, the State Internet Information Office, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of National Security, and regulate relevant administrative actions.
4. How does the Measures define the scope of Internet religious information services? What are the requirements for engaging in this service?
Answer: Internet religious information services include Internet religious information publishing services, reprinting services, communication platform services, and other services related to Internet religious information. Services that provide information such as religious teachings, religious knowledge, religious culture and religious activities to the public through Internet websites, applications, forums, blogs, microblogs, public accounts, instant messaging tools, live webcasts, etc. are all within the permitted scope of Internet religious information services.
To engage in this service, the following conditions are required: 1. The applicant is a legal person organization or an unincorporated organization legally established within the territory of the People's Republic of China, and its legal representative or principal responsible person is a mainland resident with Chinese nationality; 2. There are information auditors who are familiar with national religious policies and regulations and related religious knowledge; 3. The applicant has a sound Internet religious information service management system; 4. The applicant has a sound information security management system and safe and controllable technical guarantee measures; 5. There are places, facilities, and funds that match the service; 6. The applicant and its legal representative or principal responsible person have no criminal record or acts violating the relevant provisions of the administration of religious affairs in the past three years. In addition, the Measures make it clear that overseas organizations or individuals and their organizations established in China shall not engage in Internet religious information services in China.
5. Do individuals need to apply for the Internet Religious Information Service License to publish Internet religious information?
Answer: The Measures states that applicants engaged in Internet religious information services should be legal person organizations or unincorporated organizations legally established within the territory of the People's Republic of China. Individual users can publish Internet religious information on the platform that has obtained the Internet Religious Information Service License. The Measures requires that subjects engaged in Internet religious information dissemination platform services should sign agreements with users to strengthen the management of registered users, and regulate and restrict individuals' behavior of publishing Internet religious information. The unlicensed Internet information dissemination platform shall not provide Internet religious information publishing services for users.
6. What are the requirements of the Measures for conducting religious lectures on the Internet?
Answer: There are mainly the following provisions. The first is the subject, which is clearly defined in the Measures, must be religious groups, religious institutions, temples, and churches that have obtained the Internet Religious Information Service License. The second is that the platform must be and only be lawfully self-established Internet websites, applications, forums, etc. The third is that the personnel who can give lectures and sermons should only be religious faculty members and teachers of religious colleges. The fourth is that the contents should be beneficial to social harmony, progress, health, and civilization to guide the citizens to be patriotic and law-abiding. The fifth is the management, with the real names of those who participate in the lectures being recorded. These regulations not only give legal religious groups, colleges, temples, churches and religious faculty the right to conduct lectures on the Internet but also effectively prevent illegal religious organizations and individuals from wooing believers and engaging in illegal activities on the Internet.
7. What are the provisions of the Measures for religious education and training?
Answer: Religious institutions are important bases for training patriotic religious reserve talents and on-the-job religious teaching staff. Religious institutions can carry out Internet religious education and training according to the actual needs of running schools and the relevant regulations on Internet information service management. At the same time, the Measures regulates the subjects, platforms, and objects of religious education and training conducted by religious colleges and universities on the Internet. The subject can only be a religious institution that has obtained the Internet Religious Information Service License. The platforms provide its services only through its own dedicated internet websites, applications, forums, etc., and must be connected to the outside by virtual private network. Participants in education and training can only be students of religious colleges and universities, religious faculty members, and have to verify their identities. This provision not only reflects the respect for traditional religious education but also reflects the advance with times in the legal management of religious affairs.
8. What are the next steps after the Measures?
Answer: Internet religious information service management involves many departments with specific responsibilities. In the next step, the National Religious Affairs Administration, the State Internet Information Office, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of National Security will cooperate closely and fully to ensure that the Measures are in place. First, the Measures should be seriously studied to fully understand the significance, basic principles, and main systems of formulating the Measures, and accurately grasp the spiritual essence and work requirements of the Measures. Second, training should be carried out vigorously to strengthen the training of relevant department staff and Internet-related employees. Training should be carried out at each different level, and the Measures should be deeply rooted in the network and in the hearts of the people. Third, guidance and promotion should be strengthened to comprehensively drive the implementation of the Measures, effectively solve the prominent religious problems on the Internet, and strengthen the administration of religious affairs on the Internet according to law by the licensing of the Internet religious information service subject, strengthening the supervisory duties of government departments, carrying out supervision and inspection and other measures.
- Translated by Oliver Zuo