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China to designate sanctioned places of worship

[JURIST] The Chinese government declared on Friday that it intends to publish a list of approved religious venues in order to "root out" illegal religious activities. The proclamation [Xinhua report] was made by director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs [official website, in Chinese] Wang Zuoan [official profile], on Xinhua [official website], China's official news source. Zuoan stated that the government will create an online database that disseminates the basic information of religious organizations and includes a certification component. The database is expected to be completed in two years, however China has already made public the critical information of over 16,000 Buddhist and Taoist temples, including addresses and names of religious venues and leaders. The government states that the impetus behind this decision is to facilitate public supervision and the prevention of illegal religious facilities in order to protect the legal rights of participating religious members.

It has been speculated that the implementation of this database is meant to discourage religious activities that might undermine governmental action. The Chinese government has a long history of conflict with the Falun Gong [official website] religious group. Earlier this month a Chinese lawyer and member of the Falun Gong was detained [JURIST report] for statements defending the group. In November a Xinjiang court sentenced [JURIST report] 22 people to prison terms for participating in religious activities deemed illegal by the government. China also has a history of seeking supervisory action. On Monday the Chinese government sought the registration [JURIST report] of foreign NGOs before the organizations were allowed to set up offices in the country.

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