Vatican signs a ‘provisional agreement’ with China

– Contrary to exaggerated expectations, the Vatican-China agreement has a limited scope—but is described as “the first step in a process” – MASSIMO INTROVIGNE –

Bitter Winter (22.09.2018) – – On Saturday, September 22, the Vatican announced that it has signed in Beijing a “provisional agreement” with the Chinese government, dealing with the appointment of Catholic bishops in China, whose details remain secret. The international edition of the Chinese official People’s Daily first denied that a Vatican delegation was visiting Beijing, then after the Vatican’s official announcement—mentioning China’s deputy Foreign Minister Wang Chao as the Chinese party who signed it—had to admit that a confidential agreement had been signed. The curious behavior of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) media confirms that there are opponents of the agreement within the CCP itself.

The Vatican press release reads as follows:

“Today, 22nd September 2018, within the framework of the contacts between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China that have been underway for some time in order to discuss Church matters of common interest and to promote further understanding, a meeting was held in Beijing between Mgr Antoine Camilleri, Undersecretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and H. E. Mr Wang Chao, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, respectively heads of the Vatican and Chinese delegations.

During that meeting, the two representatives signed a Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops.

The above-mentioned Provisional Agreement, which is the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement, has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application. It concerns the nomination of Bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the Church, and creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level.

The shared hope is that this agreement may favour a fruitful and forward-looking process of institutional dialogue and may contribute positively to the life of the Catholic Church in China, to the common good of the Chinese people and to peace in the world.”

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal anticipated a much broader agreement, for which, as Bitter Winter reported, the Beijing authorities were not prepared.

What really happened may be summarized as follows:

1. The CCP favored in 1957 the birth of a “Patriotic Catholic Church,” with bishops theoretically “elected” by the local Catholics but in fact appointed by the CCP rather than by the Vatican, part of the “red market” of the government-controlled religions in China. The Vatican declared this “Patriotic Church” schismatic and excommunicated its bishops, recognizing in China as truly Catholic only an “underground” Catholic Church, with bishops appointed by the Vatican, which was heavily persecuted by the regime.
2. Since the pontificate of Benedict XVI, and in some instances even earlier, the Vatican and the CCP agreed on the appointments of local bishops, which were both selected by the CCP and recognized by the Vatican. The two Catholic Churches, the official and the “Patriotic,” did not merge but in many dioceses had the same bishops.
3. This happened in a number of dioceses, while in others the Vatican had strong objections against the bishops selected by the CCP and any agreement proved impossible.
4. What happens with the new agreement, although the details are secret, is that the Vatican and the CCP have agreed to solve the existing problems and to establish a (secret) process to identify together the future bishops of all Chinese dioceses. According to a message of the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the problems have indeed been solved for all the dioceses where previously there was no agreement, as he announced that “today, for the first time, all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome,” i.e. with Pope Francis and the Holy See.
5. What is not happening, contrary to exaggerated expectations or fears, is the exchange of diplomatic recognitions between the Holy See and China, which would also mean that the Vatican should terminate its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan—the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry rushed to publish a note explaining that this is not the case.
6. There is no announcement that the underground and the “Patriotic” churches will merge (which was and is opposed by the top leaders of the Patriotic Church and their supporters in the CCP). Immediately, what we may expect is a gradual extension to all dioceses of the situation already existing in many of them, where the two structures are personally connected by having the same bishop at the top.
7. Clearly, in the medium or long term, this process will probably lead to the merging of the two churches, but this requires the negotiation of many further details. Pope Francis’ Vatican has a style of “starting processes” rather than concluding them, and this is yet another example of this strategy.
8. Conservative Catholics, including some in China and Hong Kong, are screaming against the “sell-out” of the Catholic Church to CCP. Their position and concerns are understandable. However, with the new law which came into force on February 1, 2018, the alternative for the “underground” Catholic Church was to come to an agreement with the CCP or being wiped out and heavily persecuted. The “underground” Catholic Church is part of a “gray market” of religion President Xi Jinping vowed to eliminate. While most Protestant house churches, also part of the “gray market,” do not have the possibility of coming to similar agreements, the Vatican is both a religious organization and a State. It obviously believes it is in a unique position to find an accommodation that would avoid the persecution and secure a modicum of religious freedom for Catholics in China. The Vatican, after its experience in countries such as Poland or Lithuania, also believes that these agreements offer to it a latitude to operate openly within Communist societies, and subtly influence their transformation from inside. Whether this is a realistic perspective or a dangerous illusion, time will tell. But this is the very reason while sectors of the CCP oppose the agreement and, rather than a global, final, and public treaty with the Vatican, so far what we have is a partial, provisional, and secret one.

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist and intellectual property consultant. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of tens of books and articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion.[1] and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.[2] He is also a consultant on intellectual property rights.[3] From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In June 2012, he was appointed by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as chairperson of the newly instituted Observatory of Religious Liberty, created by the Ministry in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

CHINA: False demonstrations against the Church of Almighty God refugees start in South Korea

= Executing a secret plan that Bitter Winter revealed one month ago, the CCP brings to Korea relatives of asylum seekers of The Church of Almighty God and organizes false “spontaneous demonstrations” with the help of pro-Chinese anti-cult activists. =

Bitter Winter (31.08.2018) – – On August 4, 2018, Bitter Winter published a secret document by the Chinese Communist Party calling for harassment in South Korea of the asylum seekers of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), a Chinese Christian new religious movement heavily persecuted in China. The CCP called for the recruitment of the relatives of the asylum seekers who still live in China, if necessary through threats and coercion, who would then call for the “return home” of the refugees (who obviously would not return “home” but, once in China, will be arrested and will thus “return” to jail). The plan also sought the cooperation of pro-Chinese activists in South Korea and anti-cultists hostile to the CAG.

Bitter Winter has now learned that the CCP’s plan is being put into execution. On August 27, Ms. O Myung-ok (吴明玉Wu Mingyu), a pro-Chinese and anti-CAG activist, published several reports on some pro-Chinese and/or anti-cult Korean media, including Religion and Truth, releasing fake news claiming that CAG members are false refugees and are abusing the refugee system, and that the belief in Almighty God leads to family disruption. These reports strongly called for the deportation of CAG members back to China.

As these media disclosed, between August 30 and September 4, more than 50 people, including a dozen of family members of CAG refugees who are in Korea, and congregants from five Korean Christian groups active in campaigns against “cults,” will demonstrate against the CAG outside the Jeju court, Jeju Parliament, the CAG community in Onsu, the CAG worship building (i.e. the place where CAG members offer prayers regularly), the Blue House (Cheong Wa Dae, the executive office and official residence of the South Korean head of state, the President of the Republic of Korea), and other places. They held a press conference on August 31 as well. All this information has been confirmed by confidential sources in Korea and by CAG members Bitter Winter interviewed.

On the afternoon of August 30, one CAG member learned from his mother, who currently lives in China, that CCP officers had gone to his family two months ago, asking his relatives to cooperate with them by going to Korea to get him back to China. At a rough estimate, more than 10 relatives of CAG members were requested by the CCP to do the same thing. The CCP especially opened a WeChat account to have frequent discussions with them about this. This member’s mother also told him that his elder sister and her husband were on the way to Jeju with governmental staff members. They were asked to stay in South Korea for as long as possible. His mother insisted, “Things are getting serious. You’d better come back with them, or else we’ll get into big trouble.”

Another Korean CAG member and her husband, who are Korean Chinese, fled to Korea because of the CCP’s persecution in China. On August 29, when she made a phone call to her mother, who lives in China, she was told that her mother and cousin (male) would come to Korea to visit her and that they were waiting for the plane flying to Jeju at the moment. The CAG member told her mother that they live in Seoul and asked her to fly to Seoul directly. But her mother said she couldn’t do that since they had to stay in Jeju for two days and then go to Seoul later as scheduled, and that their hotel rooms in Jeju had already been booked. The CAG member noticed that her mother hesitated over talking and even left to her cousin the conversation when she couldn’t make herself clear. It is important to note that this cousin is working for a governmental television station in China.

On the afternoon of August 30, Ms. O Myung-ok went to the airport to pick up five cameramen (three males and two females) flying from Seoul. As far as we have learned, some 15 Chinese relatives had arrived in Jeju, while Chinese officers are also coming to Korea to direct the campaign on site. According to their agenda, on August 31 and September 1, they will stage demonstrations at the Jeju court and the Parliament building and organize press conferences; they will stage demonstrations at the CAG community in Onsu on September 2, at the Blue House on September 3, and at the CAG worship building on September 4 respectively.

When CAG refugees learned that their family members were coming to Korea, they asked to meet them as soon as possible. So The Church of Almighty God contacted the Korean police on their behalf, asking for help to arrange meetings with their family members. When the police contacted Ms. O Myung-ok, she said she couldn’t let them meet each other until they finish the demonstrations and press conferences.

We have learned from informed Korean sources that Ms. O and the CCP claim that The Church of Almighty God is trying to prevent its members to meet their relatives coming from China to Korea. This is not the case, and in fact, it is Ms. O who is preventing the relatives to meet the CAG members. Obviously, the CCP and the anti-cultists are interested in their propaganda rather than in the welfare of the families.

Nine international NGOs specialized in the defense of religious liberty, including CAP-LC, which has consultative status at the United Nations’ ECOSOC, have signed an appeal (below), dated August 31, to end this ruthless persecution of harmless refugees, strongly condemning the actions of both the CCP and the Korean anti-cultists.

SYRIA: Over 1.5 million refugees return home, according to Russian UN Envoy – Fake news or hidden news?

– By Willy Fautré –

– HRWF (25.08.2018) – European media repeatedly point at the decrease of refugees from Syria as if it were the work of the EU and the heads of EU member states but is it? Russia and Turkey also claim in their media that this decline is the result of their policies.

On 23 August, Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya announced that “more than 1.5 million Syrian refuges have returned to their homes as 96% of Syria’s territory has been liberated from terrorists thanks to the efforts of the Syrian army backed by the Russian taskforce.”

“More than 1,400 populated localities in Syria have been liberated from terrorists and more than 96% of its territory has come under control of government troops and militias thanks to the support from the Russian armed forces,” he said at a United Nations Security Council meeting on threats to international peace and stability coming from terrorism.

“As a result, more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees have been able to return to their homeland,” he stressed.

Last week, Russian President’s Special Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin visited Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to discuss the problem of Syrian refugees. After the visit, Lavrentyev told TASS that the Russian side had invited Turkey to organize regular work to promote the process of the return of Syrian refugees to the places of their permanent residence. It was announced that Moscow and Ankara are interested in cooperating in creating conditions for the safe return of Syrian nationals to their home country.

Fake news?

Of course, it would be politically uncomfortable to credit Moscow and Ankara with the sharp decline in the EU of the number of migrants from Syria and to recognize the pragmatic results of Putin’s policy in the Astana process in which the West had no say.

If it is not true, Juncker and Western heads of state should denounce such a fake news but they still do not. The ball is now in the court of Brussels.

Towards a new constitution in Syria backed by Moscow

About the discussions between Moscow and Ankara, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, was quoted as saying by TASS: “We focused on the situation in Syria, including the implementation of agreements reached at the Astana-format summits, high-level and expert meetings, as well as the execution of decisions made at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which relate to the formation of a constitutional committee.”

Participants in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, held in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 30, decided to establish a constitutional committee that will work on the country’s new constitution. The full candidate list will comprise 150 people, including 100 representatives of the Syrian government and domestic opposition, as well as 50 members of the foreign-based opposition. The UN envoy suggested that the committee should consist of no more than 50 members.

Humanitarian aid from Russia

A public-opinion poll conducted in Russia in late 2017 revealed that 73 percent of the country’s citizens consider it necessary to continue helping Syria after the end of the current conflict. An even larger proportion of respondents – 75 percent – said that they would like to see Russia continue sending humanitarian aid to Syria.

A few days ago, Central Muslim Spiritual Board chairman and Russian Chief Mufti Talgat Tajuddin called on the international community to provide humanitarian aid to Syria.

“We are calling on all peoples and countries of the world, primarily Arab and Muslim countries, to extend humanitarian aid to the people of Syria who have suffered from the atrocities of international terrorism and also refugees who are returning to their home country,” he said during a sermon on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday, also known as the “Festival of Sacrifice”, at the Lala Tulpan (Tulip in Bloom) mosque in Ufa on 21 August.

The Muslim community takes pride in the fact that “our country has been providing genuine assistance to the fraternal people of Syria in order to repel the aggression of terrorism and restore peaceful life on this land,” he said.

The Russian chief mufti also criticized those who apply double standards and “try to take advantage of any occasion to pit peoples and states against each other, those who, while welcoming the fight against terrorism, are using it only in their own interests.” (, 21 August 2018)

Putin the Savior of Christians in Syria?

Putin wants to appear as the Savior of Christians in Syria while the EU and most EU member states are reluctant to side with the local historical Christian minorities. In an article entitled “Moscow Patriarchate promotes the Kremlin’s interests and its own in the Middle East”, published in Eurasia Daily Monitor on 12 December 2017 (, Paul Goble writes:

“The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is intensifying its efforts to promote the Kremlin’s interests and its own in the Middle East. Although the Church, either directly or as a cover for Soviet and Russian security agencies, has long been active in that region-the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society is the only Russian post there that lasted from Imperial times through Soviet ones to the present (, October 11;, December 9) the Moscow Patriarchate is now expanding its efforts. These activities help Vladimir Putin in his drive to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, given the waning of US power there (see, October 5). At the same time, they ensure that Orthodox Churches in the region will continue to back the Moscow Patriarchate against the Universal Patriarchate in Constantinople on issues like autocephaly for Ukraine and the Moscow Patriarchate’s claim of “canonical territory” over the entire former Soviet space.

The Kremlin is currently convinced it can fill the niche that Washington had in the Middle East for three reasons: First, as Putin’s recent visit to the region shows (, December 11), the perception of victory of Russian forces over the Islamic State in Syria as well as Moscow’s successful backing of President Bashar al-Assad are popular. Second, the Russian president has presented himself as the chief defender of Christians in the region, something popular even among Donald Trump’s base in the United States; it is, thus, yet another means of projecting influence at Washington’s expense. And third, the Kremlin has positioned itself against Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, a widely unpopular view in the region (, December 12).

In support of those policies, Moscow Patriarch Kirill organized a meeting last week (December 4) between Putin and eleven patriarchs and two heads of delegations of Orthodox Churches who were in the Russian capital for a major conclave of the Russian Orthodox Church. Most of the churchmen attending were the leaders of the historical Orthodox patriarchates in the Middle East, and all appeared more than willing to lend their support to the idea that cooperation at the Church-to-Church level would boost the policies Putin and Kirill now back ( Russkaya Liniya, December 5).

A major reason behind their agreement on this point is that the Russian president promised to offer his support to all the Orthodox Churches in the entire world, including, as the Russkaya Liniya religious affairs portal noted, “in the Middle East in particular.” That was music to the ears of many if not all in attendance, who are under pressure not only from the predominantly Muslim populations in which they function but also from the Universal Patriarchate in Constantinople. The latter has pretensions, as the senior Orthodox body, to becoming a kind of eastern papacy that can give orders to the others, including making decisions-as it has already-on the autocephaly of groups within their canonical areas that want independence from the existing patriarchates ( Russkaya Liniya, December 5).”


The West’s policy to first oust Bashar al-Assad before rebuilding Syria politically has led to an unending war in the country, massive migration waves to Europe, an increase in terrorist attempts in EU countries, the rise in power of extreme-right parties and the dangerous banalization of anti-Muslim attitudes.

Putin has become the kingmaker in the region and wants to appear as the protector of Muslims against radical Islamism and the savior of Christian minorities.

Is it what the EU wanted?

A too-narrow vision of religious freedom

– The Trump administration embraces a laudable desire to expand religious tolerance, but its own intolerance toward some undermines the message. –
By The Editorial Board –

New York Times (16.08.2018) – – Even President Trump’s fiercest critics can find something to applaud in the administration’s campaign to protect and advance religious freedom around the world.

The State Department’s inaugural conference on the subject drew hundreds of activists and scores of foreign officials to Washington last month and produced a statement of core beliefs and a plan to hold follow-up meetings in the United States and overseas.

Invoking the 70-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the conference’s concluding statement asserted that “every person has the right to hold any faith or belief, or none at all, and enjoys the freedom to change faith” and argued that “defending the freedom of religion or belief is the collective responsibility of the global community.” To which we say, amen.
But the initiative’s good intentions are in danger of being undermined by the administration’s political agenda, which emphasizes the American strain of evangelical Christianity over other beliefs. In addition, the administration is pursuing immigration and foreign aid policies that belie its stated defense of religious rights.
The conference was ostensibly called to address the rising threat to religious freedom. Some 80 percent of the global population is severely limited in exercising this right, and of the world’s 198 countries, 55 countries, or 28 percent, experienced high or very high levels of government restrictions on religion in 2016, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center.

While the horrific genocides against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and against the Yazidis in Iraq have been widely publicized, there are countless other examples of religious-based persecution and discrimination — against Coptic Christians in Egypt, Muslim Uighurs and Tibetan Buddhists in China, Bahais in Iran, and others.

The Trump administration is not the first to speak up for religious liberty. Since 1998, when Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act, the State Department has issued annual assessments on how countries handle the issue and has used various government tools to defend groups and individuals overseas who are persecuted or discriminated against.

The current administration took its advocacy to a new level with the three-day conference, whose invited participants were more diverse than many expected. Despite his own strict Catholic leanings, Sam Brownback, the ambassador for international religious freedom, said the goal was to protect religious freedom for all, “not to say we favor this faith or that faith.”

Yet, the event, headlined by Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, was clearly meant to appeal most to the evangelicals who are among the president’s most fervent political supporters, reflecting a selectivity that is antithetical to the very concept of religious freedom.

One major focus was a demand for the release of Andrew Brunson, an American Christian pastor held by Turkey for nearly two years on bogus charges of complicity in the 2016 aborted coup. Under pressure from evangelicals, Mr. Trump earlier this month imposed sanctions on Turkey, shaking its fragile economy, in an effort to secure Mr. Brunson’s release. The president has been silent about 19 other detained Americans, including a NASA scientist who is Muslim.

The presence of a Hungarian delegation seemed particularly at odds with conference aims of promoting “equality under the law.” Although Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, has turned the Christian-majority country from democracy to nationalism and Islamophobia, he was praised by the evangelical Christian leader Tony Perkins for supporting persecuted Christians around the world.

President Barack Obama made a point of reaching out to the Muslim world, as well as to other faith communities. And like previous presidents, he tended to consider religious rights within the broad spectrum of human and civil rights. Countries that deny religious freedom invariably restrict other freedoms as well.

Many evangelicals, however, are increasingly promoting religious freedom as “our first freedom,” as Mr. Pence did in his speech. Their argument is that human rights are becoming politicized and conflated with economic and social goals, such as equal rights for workers, women and gay and transgender people.

There are other reasons to question the administration’s motives, starting with the fact that it has been reliably tough on human rights abuses only when they involve adversaries like Iran, North Korea and Cuba. Last year, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told aides not to let human rights concerns create “obstacles” in pursuing American interests. In a memo, one of his advisers said that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Philippines, whose repressive leaders are admired by the president, should be given a pass on rights questions.

Then there are Mr. Trump’s disgraceful attempts to ban Muslims from some countries from entering the United States; his reprehensible treatment of refugees and immigrants, especially in separating children from their parents; and his continued support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

Such behavior hardly reflects the “tolerance” and appreciation of “human dignity” that conference documents endorsed.

Supporting people facing religious persecution overseas is both a moral burden of the United States and an exercise in self-interest. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, religious freedom is “an essential building block for all free societies.” But it is not the only one.

If the Trump administration aspires to truly advance religious freedom, it will need to embrace a far broader vision of human rights.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTOpinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this article appears in print on Aug. 18, 2018, on Page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: A Too-Narrow Vision of Religious Freedom.

The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

CHINA: Underground Catholic priests removed

Authorities send two priests packing in Gansu province for holding a summer camp for youngsters.

Tianshui Diocese’s open church holds a summer camp for young people in 2017. Two underground priests of Maijiqu Ganquan Catholic Church have been removed after being accused of holding a summer camp. (Photo by Faith Weekly)

UCA News (09.08.2018) – – Two underground parish priests in China’s Gansu province have been removed after being accused of holding a summer camp for a youth group at their church.

Father Wang Yiqin of Hui county and Father Li Shidong of Leling city of Shandong province were serving Maijiqu Ganquan Catholic Church in Tianshui Diocese.

Tianshui Municipal Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee has sent a letter asking the local branch of the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to send personnel to replace the priests, who were accused of holding a summer camp for Bosco Youth Group at the church and sent back to their hometowns.

On July 21, the committee issued a letter stating that no association personnel were involved with the church, which had become a base for underground clergy.

It asked the association to appoint personnel “to strengthen the management of religious affairs in accordance with the law and according to the regulations on religious affairs.”

Father Zhao Jianzhang of Tianshui’s open church is deputy director and secretary-general of the Gansu Catholic Patriotic Association and Catholic Administration Commission.

He told that he had been informed of the incident and the parish office had received a letter but he was out of town and would handle the incident when he returned.

“There are people in the government who want to break the current situation. They do not allow the underground church to exist and must convert it to be open because only Tianshui in northwest China still has an underground community,” a source said.

Maijiqu Ganquan Catholic Church is one of only two underground churches in Tianshui Diocese.

Built in 1921, the church grounds cover 7,000 square meters containing a church, complex buildings and houses. The church has been approved by Yuanbeidao district government.

CHINA: More destroyed mosques in Xingiang

Seven out of eight mosques in one of the areas of Lianmuqin town in Xinjiang have been demolished; the remaining one is strictly supervised.

Bitter Winter (09.08.2018) – – According to a local source, seven of the eight mosques in the Shanshan county’s 11th Brigade of Lianmuqin town, have already been destroyed. The local Muslims are allowed to attend the remaining mosque, but there are more than twice as many government officers as worshipers inside it during prayers. The local authorities keep some guards in between the prayers as well. “Every time there are 13 Uyghurs practicing namāz, 37 government personnel are on duty,” a local Uyghur Muslim said. “We need to show our ID or give our fingerprints each time we enter the mosque for the five daily namāz prayers. Every time we kneel down and pray to Allah, the government officials stand beside us and stare directly at us. When they’re looking right at you, it’s impossible to feel calm. I finally stopped going.”

Reported by Li Benbo

Chinese Asylum Seekers: An Urgent Appeal to Chancellor Angela Merkel

Dear Chancellor Merkel:

We are NGOs active in the field of religious liberty, and write about the urgent situation of a Chinese refugee, Ms. Zhao, currently detained at the Aufsichtsund Dienstleistungsdirektion Landeseinrichtung für Asylbegehrende und Ausreisepflichtige in Hamburg, after she resisted forcible deportation to China on July 9.

We urge you to consider that, should Ms. Zhao be returned to China, she would certainly be arrested and might be subject to torture or “disappear” while in custody.

Ms. Zhao is a member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), also known as Eastern Lightning, a Chinese Christian new religious movement founded in 1991, whose core teaching is that Jesus has returned on earth incarnated as Almighty God, a Chinese woman currently leading and guiding the Church in the U.S.

CAG teaches that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has consistently persecuted Christians, is a manifestation of the evil Great Red Dragon of the Book of Revelation, and that the Dragon will fall under the weight of its errors. CAG does not advocate any revolution and is a non-violent religious movement. Virtually all Western academic scholars who have studied the CAG have debunked the accusation of crimes it has allegedly committed as fake news spread by the Chinese regime.

Because of both its beliefs and its phenomenal expansion (in 2014, CCP sources credited it with four million members), CAG has been persecuted since the 1990s and included since 1995 in the official list of xie jiao.

Xie jiao (normally translated as “evil cults,” but in fact meaning “heterodox teachings”) are movements the government does not approve of. Being active in a xie jiao is a crime punished by Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code with a jail penalty of 3 to 7 years or “more.”

CAG claims that more than 300,000 of its members have been arrested, more than 40,000 tortured, thousands held in the dreaded “transformation through education” camps, and more than 30 died in jail in highly suspicious circumstances. Bodies returned to the families in several cases had organs missing, evidence that the infamous “organ harvesting” practice has been extended to CAG prisoners. Scholars cannot confirm precise figures, but regard them as believable, as Chinese media and documents report weekly that hundreds of CAG members have been arrested.

A confidential CCP document leaked to Western media indicates that a new massive campaign for “eradicating” CAG has been launched in 2018, thousands of members have been arrested and the number of arrests is still increasing.

Those who have sought asylum abroad are regarded as particularly dangerous members of the CAG and as disloyal citizens, and are prime candidates for harsher jail penalties, with a serious risk of torture and extra-judicial killing.

We urge Germany to honor its well-known tradition of protecting human rights and religious liberty and not to return Ms. Zhao, and other CAG members in similar conditions, to her persecutors, granting them the asylum they deserve.

August 1, 2018

CAP-LC Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience
CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions
EIFRF European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom
FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief
FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe
HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers
LIREC – Center for Studies on Freedom of Belief, Religion and Conscience
ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Freedom of Refugees
Soteria International

Ukraine: 1030th anniversary of Christianization of Kievan Rus celebration by UOC/ Kyiv Patriarchate

HRWF (29.07.2018) – On 28 July, the UOC/ KP celebrated the anniversary of the Christianization of Ukraine which took place with the conversion of Prince Vladimir in 988. President Poroshenko participated in the ceremony with his wife. On the previous day, the UOC/MP had celebrated the same historical event under the name of “Baptism of Rus” in Kyiv and so had the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.

Up to 150,000 take part in UOC – KP procession in Kyiv

Interfax Ukraine (28.07.2018) – From 65,000 to 150,000 believers have participated in a religious procession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) dedicated to the 1030th anniversary of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine.

“About 65,000 people participated in the march as of 13.00. The situation is calm and controlled,” First Deputy Interior Minister Serhiy Yarovy said the Interior Ministry’s page on Facebook on Saturday.

According to him, bomb disposal experts and dog handlers checked the route along which the column of pilgrims moved in order to prevent terror attacks and provocations.
The safety of citizens was ensured by the police, the National Guard and the State Emergency Service.

The head of the information department of the UOC-KP, Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zoria), said that up to 150,000 parishioners had taken part in the events.

“‘The biggest religious procession in Ukraine’s history’ – this is what Patriarch Filaret said in his speech after a prayer service on Saint Volodymyr Hill. According to various estimates, from 65,000 to 150,000 believers or more gathered in the center of Kyiv for a prayer service,” Yevstratiy (Zoria) wrote on his Facebook page after the religious procession.

He noted that prior to this day “only the Maidan during the Revolution of Dignity brought together so many patriotic citizens who pray for the victory of truth and peace in Ukraine.”

Ukrinform: About 65,000 people participate in religious procession in Kyiv

Ukrinform (28.07.2018) – As of 13.00, about 65,000 people took part in a religious procession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP).

The procession was guarded by 2,500 law enforcers, the press service of the Internal Ministry of Ukraine reported.

“As of 13:00, about 65,000 people participated in the religious procession. The situation was calm and controlled,” the deputy director of the Department of Communications of the Interior Ministry of Ukraine wrote on Facebook with reference to First Deputy Interior Minister Serhiy Yarovy.

The law enforcers continue to protect public order during the event.

As reported, on July 28, the ceremonial events on the occasion of the 1030th anniversary of the conversion of the Kyivan Rus-Ukraine to Christianity were held in Kyiv with the participation of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

President Poroshenko and his wife took part in the Cross Procession on the occasion of the 1030th anniversary of Christianization of Ukraine-Rus

RISU (28.07.2018) – President Petro Poroshenko and his wife Maryna Poroshenko took part in the Cross Procession on the occasion of the 1030th anniversary of Christianization of Ukraine-Rus’.

Believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, headed by Patriarch Filaret, and believers of the UAOC, headed by Metropolitan Macarius, passed to the garden square near the monument to St. Vladimir.

The Head of State together with his wife also took part in the prayer service for Ukraine and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

The festive event was attended by representatives of the Government, members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches, well-known public figures, volunteers, representatives of culture, science and education.

Ukraine: 1030th anniversary of the Kievan Rus Christianization on a background of high tensions

Christianization will take place this 27-28 July in a context of high tension. On the one hand, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church/ Kyiv Patriarchate wants to secede from the Russian Orthodox Church and hopes the spiritual head of Eastern Orthodoxy, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople (Istanbul) will recognize its autocephaly. On the other hand, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church / Moscow Patriarchate has announced a procession in Kyiv on Friday in which 100,000 people would participate while the Kyiv Patriarchate has announced a similar religious procession with 100,000 participants on Saturday.

The police is on full alert.

100,000 people to participate in religious processions associated with Kievan Rus Christianization anniversary

Yevstratіy Zorya/Facebook – 5,000 police officers and 5, 000 officers of the National Guard will provide the security

112 International (24.07.2018) – – About 100,000 people, parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of both Kyiv and Moscow Patriarchates, will participate in the sacred procession that will take place on July 27 and July 28 due to the Kievan Rus Christianization. The security measures will be the same as the previous year. Andry Kryshchenko, the Head of the Kyiv National Police claimed this as Interfax-Ukraine reported.

“The participation of up to 100, 000 people is indicated in the application. The application of the Moscow Patriarchate for the participation of up to 100,000 people in the sacred procession on Friday and the application of the Kyiv Patriarchate for the participation of up to 100,000 people in the sacred procession on Saturday,” he said.

About 5,000 law enforcers will provide the order at the streets.

Moreover, Deputy Interior Minister Serhy Yarove claimed that 5,000 officers of the National Guard will be attracted to the support of the Kyiv police these days.

As it was reported earlier, sacred processions and solemn prayers will be held in the capital dedicated to the celebration of 1030 th anniversary of Kievan Rus Christianization. This is why the traffic will be restricted in downtown.

Last year’s religious procession started in Ternopil and Donetsk regions, brought the two groups of believers to enter Kyiv on July 26, meet on July 27 in Kiev at St. Vladimir’s Hill, and together with the Orthodox Kyiv citizens and pilgrims proceed to Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The expected number was 30 000 participants, however, there were more than 4,500 pilgrims at Volodymyrska Hirka a year ago and around 6 000 people took part in celebration of Baptism of Rus last year. Law enforcers expected a high number of provocations by pro-Russian activists or Kremlin-backed militants, tightening preventive measures, however, there were no serious violations reported.

OSCE is informed how Ukrainian authorities impede to the procession with cross organized by the UOC

Interfax (25.07.2018) – – The OSCE officials registered all the facts of impeding the Ukrainian Orthodox Church believers in participating in the procession with cross on the Day of the 1030th Anniversary of Russia’s Baptism, the UOC Information and Education Department reported on Wednesday.

Archbishop Kliment of Nezhin and Priluki reported the facts of violating believers’ rights at his meeting with officials of a special OSCE monitoring commission in Kiev.

The archbishop told the officials about problems experienced by the believers who wanted to come to Kiev for participating in the procession with cross on July 27.

Earlier the UOC representatives reported that Ukrainian officials block the participation of believers in the procession with cross organized by the canonical Church. In various regions of Ukraine they prevent the UOC believers from going to the procession with crossing and put carriers under pressure.

Pro-Russian clerics fomenting tensions ahead of Kievan Rus Baptism anniversary

UNIAN (26.07.2018) – – In general, a new Russian narrative is being pushed into Ukraine’s agenda – “religious war and the genocide of Orthodox believers.”

Following the fake news on Ukraine allegedly trying to “bribe Patriarch Bartholomew,” spun by Russian propaganda and its collaborators in Ukraine, certain representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine decided to add fuel to the fire with yet another fake report.

On Wednesday, representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, Protopriest Nikolai Danylevych, said that Kyiv allegedly intended “to create during celebrations of the Baptism of Kievan Rus a picture of mass support” for the idea of autocephaly.

According to Danylevych, “free shuttle buses are being provided, whole railway cars are being booked, and many people are coming [to Kyiv] who have no relation to the Church,” according to Information Resistance, a Ukraine-based OSINT NGO.

Developing his manipulative idea, Danylevich asserts that these attempts “will not help” Kyiv to influence the position of Patriarch Bartholomew, which is strange because they shouldn’t – the Constantinople has been positively consistent on the Ukraine issue, thus apparently irritating Moscow.

In general, a new Russian narrative is being pushed into Ukraine’s agenda – “religious war and the genocide of Orthodox believers.”

Experts note that this is reminiscent of the events of 2014, when the slogan was “to protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine”, and today it sounds like “protecting the Orthodox believers in Ukraine.”

In this regard, a reasonable question arises: are the Russians launching the initiative only within a new round of information war or, as it was 2014, preparing public opinion for larger-scale provocations and more aggression against Ukraine under the guise of “saviors from the DPP-LPR”?”

In fact, no one wants to save those “Russian-speakers” anymore, most of whom Moscow left to the mercy of fate in Donbas. At the same time, voicing a new call, this time “To our God, our Orthodox faith and our Tsar” Moscow once again expects to recruit new ‘useful idiots’,” IR wrote.

As Donbas blogger Aleksandr Chernov recently reported, in the occupied part of Donetsk region, self-styled Russian-controlled “authorities” are actively collecting groups of locals to be sent to Kyiv to “support” opponents of Ukrainian Orthodox Church independence from Moscow. These people will participate in “events” organized by the so-called “UOC-MP” on the day of the Baptism of Kievan Rus.

According to information available, it is about deploying a nearly 200-strong group of men.

At the same time, participation is funded, at RUB 20,000 per person. It is noteworthy that the funds are taken from local business.

As UNIAN reported earlier, Ukrainian MP Vadym Novinksy, an ardent supporter of the Moscow Patriarchate from the entourage of disgraced ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, is also contributing to artificially raising the temperature of public tensions ahead of the Baptism celebrations.

In a recent interview with he claimed he would personally defend the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra against supporters of Ukrainian church’s independence, hinting at possible violence that the Russian propaganda claims will ensue if the Constantinople grants autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Mass baptism of 500 Protestants in the Dnipro river

Ukrainian Evangelical Protestants take part in a mass baptism in the Dnipro River in Kyiv on July 22.
Ukrainian Evangelical Protestant churches held a large-scale baptism in the Dniper river waters of about 500 people to mark the 1030th anniversary of the Christianization of the Kyivan Rus (

Russia: 23 Jehovah’s Witnesses behind bars (+ 1) and 3 put under house arrest

JW Headquarters (18.07.2018) – On Sunday 15 July 2018, around 4 p.m., a police raid took place in Penza (about 650 km SE of Moscow). The police officers arrived at homes where four small groups of Witnesses had gathered. They had waited for someone to leave the apartments before bursting in and conducting searches. In one of the groups, a female investigator searched 6 women, ordering them to remove all of their clothes. As is often the case, the police seized all electronic devices and storage media, printed photographs, personal notes and notebooks. They detained about 20 adults in total, taking them to the police station. At 2 or 3 a.m. they finally let all the women go, along with most of the men. However Vladimir Alushkin, Vladimir Kulyasov, Andrey Magliv, and Denis Timoshin were detained. On 17 July, a judge sentenced Mr. Alushkin to pre-trial detention (two months), while the other three men have been placed under house arrest (two months).

Additionally, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a press release ( to express their ‘deep concern’ over the escalating persecution of JWs in Russia. The press release included a reminder that JWs were persecuted (many even killed) during the Nazi regime. The German government targeted JWs largely due to the fact they would not swear allegiance to the state (any state) or serve in the military. Thus, learning from such a dark period in history, the Museum’s director urged “leaders from across society to forcefully denounce the anti-Jehovah’s Witnesses campaign currently underway” in Russia:

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum remains deeply concerned over the continuing harassment and persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses by Russian authorities. Since the Russian Supreme Court labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist organization” in April 2016, Witness property has been seized by the state, numerous Witnesses have been arrested, and hundreds have fled the country.

“The state-sponsored persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses continues to escalate in the Russian Federation,” said Tad Stahnke, the Museum’s director of international educational outreach. “The Museum urges leaders from across society to forcefully denounce the anti-Jehovah’s Witness campaign currently underway.”

During the Nazi regime, the German government targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses because their religious beliefs prevented them from adhering to the requirements of the Nazi state. Witnesses do not swear allegiance to any state or serve in the military. These religious convictions as well as their international connections—the headquarters are in the United States and some Witnesses travel abroad for their missionary work—made them a perceived threat to Nazism. Of the 25,000–30,000 active Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany, about half were convicted and sentenced during the Nazi period. Of those convicted or sentenced, between 2,000 and 2,500 were sent to concentration camps, as were a total of about 700 to 800 non-German Witnesses. An estimated 1,000 German Witnesses and 400 non-German Witnesses died in the camps.

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hate, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit