By Massimo Introvigne
The Korea Times (29.10.2018) – https://bit.ly/2OZEXzX – Chinese authorities are undertaking an extensive fake news campaign in Korea to persuade local authorities to deport Chinese members of the Church of Almighty God who have come here to escape religious persecution.
With the Ministry of Justice looking to revise the Refugee Act to prevent fake asylum seekers in the wake of the outcry over the arrival this year of around 500 Yemeni refugees, mostly men, China is doing what it can to portray Chinese asylum seekers here as bogus.
The Chinese refugees in question are from the Church of Almighty God (CAG), a new Christian religious movement which the government has singled out for suppression, and are among several thousand who have escaped overseas and sought asylum in democratic countries.
Several NGOs have submitted evidence to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations that thousands of CAG members have been arrested for the sole reason of belonging to the church. Many of them have been tortured and more than 30 died while in custody in suspicious circumstances.
Scholars have also documented that accusations of crimes allegedly committed by the CAG are in fact fabricated by Chinese propaganda.
These bullying tactics are stark explanation for the abysmal reputation China has internationally for its handling of political and religious dissidents.
Confidential Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents obtained and published by Bitter Winter, the online publication of my NGO, the Center for Studies on New Religions, show that the campaign of fake news also extends to South Korea.
An internal CCP document dated July 3, 2015, which we published in Bitter Winter, explicitly required officials throughout China to investigate members of both the Falun Gong religion and the CAG who had left the country, obtain a comprehensive grasp of their basic situation (including the activities they are engaged in overseas, who their relatives in China are and what they do, and so on), conduct an analysis on a person-by-person basis, and formulate a special work plan for each person.
At first, the attempts to force believers back home were quite thuggish. For example, back in May 2016, a woman arrived in Korea with CCP agents and tried to kidnap her husband, who had joined CAG. The husband was lured to a hotel where his passport and mobile phone were taken. He was held for a while against his will but managed to escape.
After this failure, the strategy appeared to change. The woman returned twice to Korea and held public protests with the Korean representative of a local pro-CCP magazine.
In 2017, the wife of another CAG member who had fled to South Korea was ordered by the political commissar of the Provincial Public Security Department in Heilongjiang, where she lived, to join the CAG community in South Korea and “follow his instructions.” Unwilling to do this, she claimed to be suffering from a serious heart disease and fled her home together with her parents.
On Nov. 8, last year, the magazine representative brought the relatives of five CAG members to South Korea and held demonstrations outside the court in Jeju, the Seoul Immigration Office, and at CAG’s own premises. The family members were required to hold a banner reading “My relative is not a refugee,” and request that the court dismiss the asylum bids.
At this time, one of the Chinese family members brought to Korea realized that something was wrong and sought the cooperation of Korean authorities to meet with his relative. He discovered far from having been “kidnapped and abused” by the church as the CCP had claimed, his relative was finally enjoying the freedom of belief and was very happy to be allowed to remain in Korea.
Now, in the wake of the protests against the refugees from Yemen, China has upped its game. We have learned that the Chinese Ministry of State Security recently pressured the relatives of many CAG members now in Korea to film videos and write joint letters “seeking missing family members.”
Nobody in China would believe such letters and videos to be spontaneous and genuine, but they are used in Korea to persuade the authorities to deport the CAG asylum seekers. But, ironically, in Korea, such gestures risk being taken at face value.
Obviously, the Chinese plan is being implemented in Korea to take advantage of a new climate that is generally unfavorable to refugees.
It is something that Koreans, despite the need to maintain good political, economic and cultural relations with China, for the simple reason that it violates their sovereign values as a modern democracy that respects freedom of religion and individual human rights.
Massimo Introvigne is a sociologist and the founding director of the Center for Studies on New Religions.
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HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries: http://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/
List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/