China issues rules 'to end religious discrimination'

 China is issuing new laws which it says will end discrimination on grounds of belief. The state-run news agency Xinhua, says the "religious affairs provisions" will come into force on 1 March and designed to keep up with "rapid socio-economic development". One of the clauses states: "No organisation or individual may force citizens to believe or not to believe in religions. "They are not allowed to discriminate against citizens who are believers or non-believers." At the present time human right groups say thousands of members of religious groups are being harshly treated in prison or forced labour camps for their beliefs. These range from practitioners of the indigenous Falun Gong spiritual movement to laypeople and clergy from the Catholic Church loyal to Rome and Protestant churches. Some scholars have welcomed the fact that officials who abuse their powers in dealing with religious groups could face prosecution under the new rules. But most analysts say the wording of the new rules suggest no real change in policy has taken place and the rules are "window dressing" at best, or at worst an attempt to actually tighten state control.

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