Christians in China are fearing more difficulties with the introduction of new religious measures next month that will tighten state control over church activities.
The new administrative measures come into effect on February 1, Asia News reports, and are a follow-on from the "Regulations on religious affairs" brought in two years ago that Christians in the country say have led to increased interference.
The regulations cover a broad range of areas, from the formation of places of worship, to their offices and organisation, finances and projects.
Importantly, they also cover meetings and gatherings, which are subject to approval from the religious affairs department.
Article 5 reads that "religious organisations must adhere to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, observe the constitution, laws, regulations, ordinances and policies, adhere to the principle of independence and self-government, adhere to the directives on religions in China, implementing the values of socialism".
Article 17 further enforces this message by stating, "Religious organizations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as national laws, regulations, rules to religious personnel and religious citizens, educating religious personnel and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, supporting the socialist system, adhering to and following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics."
The regulations also state that "without the approval of the religious affairs department of the people's government, or registration with the civil affairs department of the people's government, no activities can be carried out in the name of religious groups".
A Catholic priest in China told Asia News that the new measures reflected the Chinese Community Party's hostility towards all religions.
"In practice, your religion no longer matters, if you are Buddhist, or Taoist, or Muslim or Christian: the only religion allowed is faith in the Chinese Communist Party," he said.
Persecution watchdog International Christians Concern said it feared that the new regulations would be used by the Communist government as a "legal tool to further tighten space for religious groups."