Wed, Jul 21, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Officials in Shanghai to `update' rules on religion

AP , SHANGHAI

Authorities in Shanghai are updating rules on religious worship, reportedly focusing on controlling Internet use by the faithful and coping with a growing number of foreign churchgoers.

The new rules are to be issued in October, said an official of the city's Minority and Religious Affairs Administration.

But he wouldn't give any details of the changes.

"They will both delete outdated items and add new items to suit the changing social environment," said the official, who would give only his surname, Jiang.

Authorities are looking for ways to monitor Internet use by religious groups -- an issue not covered by current rules, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post said, citing unidentified sources.

The amended rules also call for creating a ``watchdog'' to monitor foreign worshippers and for groups of foreign followers and clergy members to ``coordinate'' with the government and state-monitored churches, the Post said.

China's officially atheist government allows worship only in state-sanctioned churches.

Chinese citizens are not usually allowed to attend services for foreign residents.

The regulations give no reason for this, though authoritarian China often segregates different groups in order to help control them.

Foreigners in Shanghai can take part in officially allowed religious activities but are prohibited from setting up their own religious groups or proselytizing.

City officials are issuing the rules because they felt an urgent need to "keep up with change," according to the Post.

The revised rules recommend setting up additional locations for foreign-language services and increasing the number of languages used, the report said.

Foreign-language services now are conducted in English and Korean. Shanghai has as many as 60,000 foreign residents.

Many of them come from Germany, France and other countries where languages other than English are spoken.

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