BEIJING (LifeSiteNews) — China has taken its surveillance and control of religion to a new extreme with the rollout of a new “Smart Religion” app, which will allow the Communist government to know exactly who takes part in any officially recognized religious service.
The new app, developed by the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission of Henan Province in China, will be needed to follow a new government mandate requiring Chinese citizens to register and make an online reservation in order to attend any religious service in the government-sanctioned churches, mosques, or temples.
Registration through the app will require an applicant’s personal information, including their name, phone number, government ID number, permanent residence, occupation, and date of birth. After registering, a reservation for the particular religious service will be required.
Criticizing the new mandate, religious rights advocacy group ChinaAid declared, “These management measures did not stem from the intention to protect the religious rights of religious people but rather are mediums to accomplish political purposes.”
ChinaAid noted that a report of February 24 from Henan Daily stated that “Zhang Leiming, member of the Standing Committee of the Henan Provincial Party Committee and head of the United Front Work Department, went to the Provincial Ethnic and Religious Committee to investigate and pointed out that it is necessary to strictly manage religion in a comprehensive way, unite and guide the majority of religious believers to follow the Chinese Communist Party unswervingly.”
In 2017, a Catholic church in Henan still under construction was raised to the ground by Communist authorities, who declared the church an “illegal structure” and ordered its demolition. Three hundred police came with inspectors to ensure that the church was torn down. Parishioners tried to stop the demolition but were beaten by police, and 40 persons detained. The church property was then confiscated, together with that of the parishioners and the construction workers.
The 2023 Open Doors Report on religious persecution in China stated that “monitoring (e.g., by school authorities and neighborhood committees) is ubiquitous in the whole country.” According to the report, “Surveillance in China is among the most oppressive and sophisticated in the world.” Detailing the way in which the CCP targets both places of meeting and “high-profile” Christians who fall under special CCP scrutiny for voicing criticism of the regime or for alleged connections to foreign groups, Open Doors reported that Chinese government “operates a system of rewards to encourage security guards in the community to report any irregularities; this grid management system is tight and used for several purposes, including monitoring neighborhoods.”
“All communities of Christians are being monitored … Many church activities are not just monitored by the presence of agents, but also by CCTV cameras watching the pulpit, congregation and surrounding church compound … More and more house churches experience harassment and obstruction once their activities have been discovered. Most have been forced to split up into small groups and gather in different and frequently changing locations, keeping a low-profile so as not to be detected by the sub-district officer or neighborhood committee.”
Commenting on the situation, China expert Steven Mosher told LifeSiteNews that with the new surveillance app, “the CCP is using modern technology to create the world’s first hi-tech digital dictatorship.” Mosher said the Communist government “wants to monitor everyone in China in real-time using self-reporting, surveillance cameras, and AI. Big Brother is not only watching, but expects you to report any and all ‘subversive activity’ you might be engaged in — including going to Mass.”
“This may well be our fate if we are not careful,” Mosher warned.
“The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference does not only ‘work with the CCP,’ it is a front group for the CCP in the same way that the Catholic Patriotic Association is a front group for the CCP,” Mosher continued. “ In December 2021, CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping gave a speech at the National Conference on Work Related to Religious Affairs. Xi emphasized that ‘religion and religious organizations must be actively guided to adapt to socialist society,’ and that those working on ‘religious affairs’ within the Party must take the Sinicization of religion as their major task. And lest there be any misunderstanding that Sinicization simply means making modest adaptions to Chinese culture, he stated this: ‘Sinicization means that all religious communities should be led by the Party, controlled by the Party, and support the Party.’”
“There is no room in this formulation for the Catholic Church, or any religious organization in China, to operate independently of Communist Party control,” Mosher declared. “In fact, the Party his made it clear that any organization that attempts to do so will be annihilated.”
This is not the first time Chinese authorities have attempted to control citizens by use of a smartphone app. Just last June, the government obstructed a plan by hundreds to protest the freezing of their bank funds by triggering an app on their smartphones, changing their “health code” from green to red, effectively barring them from traveling across the country, using public transportation, and accessing public venues, like restaurants and malls.
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