Even personal travel to visit relatives requires permission, and detailed itineraries must be submitted. Failure to comply can result in churches being closed.
Bitter Winter has obtained a copy of a document titled Work Management System for Religious Groups and Religious Activity Venues in Dandong City. Issued by the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs of this Liaoning Province municipality in May 2018, it sets forth strict regulations for monitoring finances, reporting on major events, and conducting assessments of clergy members. The document also calls for tight control over the travels of religious leaders.
A so-called “leave-for-travel request-and-report-back system” stipulates that, if the main person in charge of a religious group or venue leaves the city for one day or more, he or she must apply for permission three days in advance from the city’s Religious Affairs Bureau. No distinction is made between business or personal travel. When asking for permission, the purpose, time, and destination of travel must be specified, as well as the name and contact information of the person in charge of the church in the leader’s absence. While traveling, the religious leader must be reachable at all times. If there are any changes in the itinerary, a supplementary report must be filed. After returning home, a report detailing their travels must be given promptly to the religious affairs authorities.
The document also declares that state-approved clergy members are subject to an annual assessment. They are to be judged on their implementation of rules and regulations, their management of internal church affairs, and their financial management. Clergy must attend group study at least twice per year. The content of these meetings must include the Party’s general principles and policies as well as specific religious policies.
Similar requirements have been implemented in Liaoning Province’s Shenyang city. The leader of a Three-Self church in Shenyang reports that the city’s Public Security Bureau, Religious Affairs Bureau, and National Security Division convened a joint meeting last May. At the meeting, officials demanded that the deacons, legal representatives, and leaders of each official church ask for permission from the Religious Affairs Bureau before traveling. Even visiting one’s relatives is not allowed without prior consent, and going abroad is especially problematic.
According to one Three-Self church pastor, approval from the religious affairs authorities used to be required only when going out of town specifically to preach, or when visiting Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, or other countries.
Some Three-Self clergy in other provinces have also reported to Bitter Winter that clergy were arrested after visiting another township in the same jurisdiction to support fellow Three-Self believers. This rarely happened in the past.
Meanwhile, the penalties for traveling without approval have become more severe. Previously, when such cases occurred, clergy members would be summoned for questioning by the Religious Affairs Bureau. Now, they face dismissal, or even having their church shut down.
In June 2018, a Three-Self church preacher from Jingde county, in Anhui Province’s Xuancheng city, was admonished by officials from the local Religious Affairs Bureau after she traveled to Hubei to attend a revival meeting. The officials said that she would be on probation for six months. If she were found to be “disobedient” during that time, the church to which she belongs would be shut down. Since then, personnel from the Religious Affairs Bureau and the local police station come to the church every month to conduct inspections and investigate any attendees not on the official registration.
Reported by Wang Anyang