Special Weekly FORB Newsletter (06-11.07.2020)

11.07.20 – Afraid to seek medical care, believer on the run dies

For runaway Church of Almighty God members, seeking medical care means being found by the state. Many are arrested in hospitals; others die of untreated illnesses.

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11.07.20 – Uyghur traditional houses destroyed by the CCP: Another tool of cultural genocide

A fascinating study by Timothy Grose shows how the “Three News” brutal campaign in Xinjiang is transforming domestic spaces to eradicate Uyghur identity.

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10.07.20 – Ancestral halls destroyed or turned into propaganda centers

Under the CCP rule, any form of religion is banned: even worship of ancestors or ancient sages is banned.

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09.07.20 – The EU will have another special envoy for religious liberty in the world

The office was restored, after the European Commission dismantled it and many protested. While his or her name is still unknown, the work of the next Envoy must start from China.

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09.07.20 – House churches suppressed, believers arrested in Chongqing

Since the coronavirus restrictions started to be lifted in March, the CCP intensified attacks on Protestant venues that are not part of the state-run church.

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08.07.20 – The CCP before the International Criminal Court for the Uyghur genocide

Although China did not sign the treaty establishing the court in The Hague, London attorney Rodney Dixon believe jurisdiction against Beijing can be asserted there.

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08.07.20 – Church of Almighty God members tortured for their faith

In China, dissidents and members of banned religious groups are often subjected to torture while in detention. Two believers share their stories.

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06.07.20 – Pope Francis and China: A Vatican mystery and a proposal

Allegedly, on July 5 a paragraph of a pre-written speech by the Pope where he supported freedom in Hong Kong was not read by Francis. To avoid further wild speculations, the Vatican may publish the text of the 2018 China deal.

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06.07.20 – China’s outdoor Buddhist statues continue to tumble

As temples were shut to prevent the spread of COVID-19, CCP intensified its campaign to eliminate all Buddhist statues in Sichuan, Fujian, and Shandong provinces.

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IRAN: Seven Christians face prison, exile, work restrictions and fines

– Article 18 (29.06.2020) – https://articleeighteen.com/news/6263/ – Seven Christian converts in the south-western Iranian city of Bushehr have been given sentences ranging from prison and exile to work restrictions and fines.
The seven, including three married couples, received their verdicts on 21 June at the revolutionary court in Bushehr.
They were given 20 days to appeal, and intend to do so.
The four men – Habib Heydari, Pooriya Peyma, and brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi – each received custodial sentences. Sam and Sasan also face work restrictions and exile after their release.
The three women – Fatemeh Talebi, and sisters Maryam and Marjan Falahi – were fined. Maryam, a nurse, was also given a lifetime ban on working for any national institution, including the hospital she’s worked at for 20 years.
Details of sentences
Sam and Sasan were each sentenced to one year in prison, followed by a two-year exile from Bushehr, which includes a ban on working in their specialist profession – the hospitality sector.
Habib also received a one-year prison sentence, but no exile or work restrictions. Pooriya received a 91-day sentence – the minimum jail time required to ensure the prisoner leaves with a criminal record – and again no exile or work restriction.
Sam and Sasan’s wives, Maryam and Marjan, received fines of 8 million tomans (around $400) and 6 million tomans (around $300) respectively.
Maryam’s additional lifetime ban on employment at any national institution is a severe blow after her two decades of service at the local hospital.
Finally, Pooriya’s wife, Fatemeh, received a 4 million toman fine (around $200) – equivalent to two months’ salary for the average Iranian.
The seven Christians were given their verdicts to read, but not allowed to take them home or to make copies.
They were each convicted of the same charge – “propaganda against the state” – under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for up to a year in prison for anyone found guilty of engaging in “any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations”.
The Iranian Parliament recently passed amendments to two articles of the Penal Code, including Article 500, but they do not appear to have had any impact in this particular verdict.
The amendments enable judges to label those convicted of “insulting Islam” or “propaganda against Islam” as being members of “sects”. Those convicted of membership of such groups can face flogging or even the death penalty, in addition to imprisonment and fines.
Background
The seven Christians were first arrested on 1 July 2019, alongside Sam and Sasan’s mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh, who is in her sixties and as a result was released later the same day.
The seven detained Christians were released over two weeks later, having each posted bail of 300 million tomans (around $30,000).
During the arrests, officers introducing themselves as agents from the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) stormed the Christians’ homes in a coordinated operation, confiscating Bibles, Christian literature, wooden crosses and pictures carrying Christian symbols, along with laptops, phones, all forms of identity cards, bank cards and other personal belongings.
The agents also searched their work offices and confiscated computer hard drives and security-camera recordings.
They treated them harshly, even though small children were present during the arrests.
The seven Christians were then held in solitary confinement in the MOIS office in Bushehr and denied access to lawyers. They were also coerced to confess to their “crimes” on camera.
Some of their associates were later summoned for interrogation.
The seven initially faced two additional charges – “collusion”, and “membership of a group hostile to the regime” – which could have led to ten-year sentences.
They were acquitted of those charges at a hearing on 30 December 2019, but told that the remaining charge against them was “applicable” because of their possession of Christian literature and other Christian items, which were claimed to be evidence they had evangelised.
The judge even named some of the Christian literature that had been found at their properties, including copies of ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘Getting to Know the Bible’.
A further hearing took place on 20 April, after which the court clerk told them they could expect a verdict within a week, though their lawyer told them it could take months.
Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, commented: “Condemning these people to prison because of their possession of Bibles and Christian symbols is a clear demonstration that Iran’s Foreign Minister and others aren’t telling the truth when they say that ‘no-one is put in prison in Iran simply because of their beliefs’.
“These people have done nothing that could be construed as ‘propaganda against the state’ or ‘acting against national security’, but nevertheless they have been treated so unjustly. The international community must hold Iran to account for this miscarriage of justice, and many others like it.”



Fled China to escape the CCP’s persecution, now seeking asylum in Europe

– HRWF calls upon the relevant Spanish authorities to grant asylum to Wang Dongdong and other members of The Church of Almighty God whose case is similar.

 

HRWF (30.06.2020) – Wang Dongdong is from Jiaozuo City in Henan Province, China. In 2001, his family all joined The Church of Almighty God and so he has been a member since childhood. He once had a happy family, but it was torn apart by the CCP’s arrests and persecution. In May 2015, he managed to escape China and reach Spain to seek asylum.

 

The following is Wang Dongdong’s personal experiences under the CCP’s persecution that he shared with Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF).

 

Arrested at the age of 12, forced to drop out of school

 

“One day during the spring of 2002, someone reported that my parents were preaching the gospel to the police. About eight police officers arrested my father and three other church members on charges of ‘illegal preaching’ and took away all of their faith-related books. My father was released one day later. After that, the police would regularly come and raid our home, intimidating and threatening us by saying that they were going to take my father away to be re-educated through labour. In order to avoid another arrest, my father had to run away from home and go into hiding.

 

The harassment by the police and the CCP’s persecution had a long-lasting impact on my mental and emotional wellbeing. Even today, I am overwhelmingly fearful when I see police on the streets in Spain, and I panic. My entire body shakes uncontrollably.

 

In 2003, when I was 12 years old, I was arrested while preaching on the streets. The police informed my school and my teachers began discriminating against me. For example, I was disqualified from exams. Later, I had to drop out of school because of this.”

 

Mother died due to being in hiding and unable to see a doctor

 

“In November 2011, the CCP carried out a massive repression campaign in Henan Province. They frantically arrested and persecuted Christians everywhere: 29 leaders of our Church as well as many members were arrested in our area. My parents had to leave the region to escape capture.

 

Afterwards, the police learned that my parents were custodians of church funds. They went to our home and turned it upside-down during their search for them. My home was a total mess after that, as if it had been cleaned out by looters. Fortunately, my parents had transferred the church’s money when they had fled home. The police didn’t find the funds, so they arrested my older brother and waited at our home until the evening, hoping to capture all four members of my family.

 

In order to avoid being caught by the CCP, my parents hid in a cave for a long time. Due to the lack of clothing and food, they suffered from extreme cold and hunger. They lived in fear the entire time. My mother soon fell ill. My parents didn’t dare go to the hospital because they were afraid of exposing their whereabouts after showing their ID cards. Unable to receive treatment, my mother passed away.

 

When I heard about my mother’s death, I was absolutely devastated and am heartbroken to this day. I wish I could have seen her one last time before she died but that was made impossible. It was the CCP’s persecution that separated us and broke my family.

 

Unexpectedly, I met my father one day. When I saw him, I was shocked. He had become so thin, aged and haggard. Almost all of his hair had turned white. His eyes were swollen, and he looked defeated. I held my father tightly in my arms and we cried. The passing of my mother is an anguish that will never end for us.”

 

Arrested again in 2013

 

“In 2012, I faced great difficulties in my attempts to reach Sichuan Province to spread the gospel. On the morning of 29 March 2013, I was meeting two church members at the Guangyuan City Wetland Park when, within five minutes, we were surrounded by twenty to thirty heavily armed special force officers, all of them pointing their guns at us. An older member tried to run, but several police rushed up to her and violently kicked her onto the ground. They forced us in police cars and drove us to the police station.

 

The police took away my two cell phones, my watch, and RMB 1,500 (approximately 212 USD) in cash. After they had searched me, they yelled at me and violently kicked me onto the floor. They kept kicking if I made even the slightest movement. Later, they took me to the interrogation room and cuffed me to a tiger stool, without allowing me to relieve myself, and while denying me any food or water.

 

That evening, the Cangxi County National Security Brigade Police escorted me to the Cangxi County Detention Center.”

 

Torture and forced labour

 

“On the morning of 30 March 2013, the police cuffed me to an iron chair and interrogated me with the aim of extorting information about myself and the church. When I told them nothing, they threw burning cigarette butts on my face. For more than half a month, I was threatened and interrogated every day. They showed me many photos of church members and pressed me to identify them. They told me details about phone conversations I had with other church members. It was then that I realised that they had already been tracking us for at least half a year using video cameras, wiretapping our phones, and recording our conversations.

 

While I was incarcerated at the detention center, I was forced to make tin foil for up to ten hours every day. This tin is poisonous, and if you continually breathe it in, you will eventually get cancer. After working for a long period of time, every inmate there developed numerous red blotches on their skin which were insufferably itchy, and our mouths were also festering.

 

One time, a flu was spreading amongst the inmates, but the guards refused to give us medicine and forced us to continue working. According to one inmate, the work of just our cell alone would net them over one million yuan in one year. We ate moldy rice and rotten vegetables boiled in water, without any salt or oil. We never had enough to eat. Apart from that, two video cameras were installed in every cell to monitor us 24 hours a day.

 

I was detained under these horrendous and dangerous conditions for three months and eleven days.”

 

Fleeing China and arriving in Spain

 

“On 28 May 2014, the CCP accused members of our Church of a horrifying homicide at a McDonald’s in Zhaoyuan, Shandong. This tragic incident was used by the CCP to justify a large-scale mobilisation of armed police and military troops to arrest leaders and members of our Church. Fellow followers of the Church of Almighty God were captured one by one and so I had to relocate many times. In 2017, Dr Massimo Introvigne investigated this criminal case and uncovered the CCP’s deliberate deception in an article published in The Journal of Cesnur.

 

In 2015, as there was a high risk of being re-arrested, I somehow managed to obtain a passport. After many challenges, I finally escaped China and have now reached Europe where I am applying for asylum.”

 

HRWF calls upon the relevant Spanish authorities to grant asylum to Wang Dongdong and other members of The Church of Almighty God whose case is similar.




From China to Italy after being on the run for three years

– HRWF calls upon the relevant Italian authorities to grant asylum to members of The Church of Almighty God who have fled China because of the persecution.

 

HRWF (30.06.2020) – After being persecuted and living in hiding for three years in China, Cheng Lu, a pseudonym used to protect her family who still live in China (*), arrived in Italy and asked for the protection of the Italian government.

 

Cheng Lu is from Henan Province, China, and used to work as a designer at a shoe company. In 2012, she was arrested by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) because of her membership in The Church of Almighty God. Consequently, she lost her well-paid job.

 

In 2013, she narrowly escaped from the CCP’s mass arrest campaign targeting believers of all faiths. After that, she lived on the run. In 2015, she escaped China and sought asylum in a democratic country overseas.

 

She shared her experiences of persecution in China during an interview with Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF).

 

Arrest in 2012

 

“It was 12 December 2012. Two church sisters and I were sharing the gospel with other people when four police officers caught us. They put us in a police car without showing any official identification. One of them shouted at me: ‘You break the law by believing in God in China. Instead, you should believe in the Communist Party. If all people become followers of God, then who will follow the Party?’

 

At the police station, the officers ordered us to take out all of our religious materials and personal belongings and to put them on our legs. They photographed us and then separated us for interrogation. An officer questioned me about how I got the religious material. As the three of us refused to say anything, they locked us in a very small room and deprived us of food and water.

 

That night, my then company manager bailed me out. When I left, an officer warned me that if I was found to be continuing to believe in God and spreading the gospel, I would be sentenced to between eight and ten years in prison. My manager became afraid for his business and gave me an impossible choice: to leave The Church of Almighty God and continue working there or to leave. I chose to quit my job.

 

Since I now had this arrest on my record, I was unable to find a job or rent an apartment, and I was afraid to show my ID card to others. I had no other choice than to flee to another city and live in hiding.”

 

A narrow escape in 2013

 

“In late June 2013, the CCP launched a mass arrest campaign in Zhejiang Province, which led to the arrests of over 100 members of our church, including leaders and general members. Among them was Sister Liu, who managed the church in the town I lived in. She had been secretly tracked by the police for six months. Since I had frequent contact with her, I was in grave danger. I decided to escape immediately to another province. Later I learned that five leaders and church staff were arrested there after I left.

 

Sometime in August 2014, the CCP ordered the police to re-arrest believers of The Church of Almighty God who had arrest records and to re-sentence them. The CCP police conducted a blanket search for church members by going from door to door under the guise of a census or checking either the water or electricity.

 

To escape another CCP arrest, I moved from place to place and had to constantly hide. Wherever I was, I dared not go out and only spoke in whispers, living in stifling fear every day. Once, when residential committee staff visited our place for a check, I had to hide in a small cupboard, curling myself into a ball in total darkness. I could only see a gleam of light from the crack in the cupboard door, and in that moment, I felt miserable. It occurred to me that believers in God had nowhere to live in China where they would be free from persecution. This realisation led to a great deal of pain. I longed for freedom.

 

In the 14 months I spent in hiding, I did not dare to call my parents because I knew their phone was under surveillance.”

 

Forced to flee China

 

“In 2014, the CCP falsely accused members of our Church of a homicide at a McDonald’s in Zhaoyuan, Shandong. The CCP used all of the media outlets under its control to attack, defame, and slander our Church. In 2017, Dr Massimo Introvigne investigated the criminal case and uncovered the CCP’s deliberate deception in an article published in The Journal of Cesnur.

 

Afterwards, the CCP mobilised armed police and military forces to carry out a nationwide ‘Hundred Day Battle’ with the sole purpose of arresting members and leaders of our Church. Throughout the campaign, almost 1,900 members of The Church of Almighty God were arrested and at least six of them were tortured to death. From time to time I heard news about the arrests of members and leaders that I knew or had worked with. My situation became even more dangerous and I ran out of places to hide.

 

In 2015, I managed to get a passport and escape China to seek asylum in a democratic country. I have filed my application for asylum in Italy and I am waiting for a decision that will change my whole life. During my hearing in March 2018, I talked about how I joined The Church of Almighty God, my participation in the church activities, and my persecution by the CCP. The Church of Almighty God overseas confirmed my membership after rigorous review and issued a certificate.

 

However, in July 2018, Italy’s Ministry of the Interior rejected my asylum claim. They didn’t recognise my affiliation to The Church of Almighty God and my persecution in China because I managed to obtain a valid passport. This demonstrates ignorance of the loopholes within the Chinese system and the widespread corruption that allowed me to purchase this passport. I have appealed this decision.”

 

HRWF calls upon the relevant Italian authorities to grant asylum to members of The Church of Almighty God who have fled China because of the persecution.

 

(*) The real name of this asylum-seeker is known to HRWF.




Eritrea: Orthodox Christians in prison

– HRWF (19.06.2020) – Despite state recognition, the Eritrean Orthodox Church and its Patriarch have been heavily persecuted since Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia in 1991.[1] The newly independent government wanted a national Orthodox Church separate from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and so asked Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria for Eritrean Orthodoxy autocephaly.[2]
In 2004, Abune Antonios was elected as Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. He opposed the government’s interference in the affairs of the church and objected its confiscation of church properties, hijacking of church offerings, expropriation of tithes and pressuring priests and deacons to military services. The government deposed him, put him under house arrest in 2006 and appointed a new, more obedient, Patriarch.
This context explains the persecution of Abune ANtonios and those who are faithful to him.
Orthodox Christians behind bars: some statistics
As of 1 April 2020, HRWF documented four cases of Eritrean Orthodox Christians in its Prisoners’ Database.[3] Three of these individuals are in maximum-security detention centres and one is under house arrest, Patriarch Abune Antonios. Before their arrest, these members occupied high level positions within Eritrea, until they were arrested for involvement in the renewal movement of the Orthodox Church. The number of cases documented by HRWF has not changed over the last couple of years.
Articles of the Penal Code
Quite often believers of all faiths are arrested and imprisoned without any formal charges, trial or conviction.
International advocacy
On 6 July 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the cases of Abune Antonios and Dawit Isaak. The resolution stated that:
Abune Antonios, the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the nation’s largest religious community, has been in detention since 2007, having refused to excommunicate 3000 parishioners who opposed the government […] since then, he has been held in an unknown location where he has been denied medical care.
The European Parliament called ‘on the Eritrean Government to release Abune Antonios, allow him to return to his position as Patriarch, and cease its interference in peaceful religious practices in the country’. Additionally, it reiterated ‘that freedom of religion is a fundamental right, and strongly condemned any violence or discrimination on grounds of religion’.[4]
In its 2018 Annual Report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed its concern for the continuation of religious repression in the country and highlighted the domination of the government in the internal affairs of the four recognised religious communities, including the Orthodox Church of Eritrea. USCIRF determined that Eritrea merited designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. USCIRF has designated Eritrea as a CPC since 2004.[5]
On 21 June 2019, the UN Human Rights Council issued a press release by Special Rapporteur Daniela Kravetz about human rights in Eritrea, especially the government’s crackdowns on various religious communities. Concerning the arrest of Orthodox believers, she said that on 13 June 2019 that ‘security forces arrested five Orthodox priests from the Debre Bizen monastery. The priests ‑ three over 70 years old ‑ were allegedly arrested for opposing the government’s interference in the affairs of the Church’.[6] She also pressed the government to ‘release those who have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs’.[7]
As of 15 June 2020, there were 63 FoRB prisoners in Eritrea in HRWF’s Prisoners’ Database
Jehovah’s Witnesses: 55
Coptic Orthodox: 4
Protestants: 4
See details of these documented cases at https://hrwf.eu/prisoners-database/
[1] “Eritrean War of Independence,” New World Encyclopedia, accessed June,
2020. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Eritrean_War_of_Independence.
[2] Stefon, Matt, “Shenouda III,” Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., March 13, 2020.
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Shenouda-III.
[3] Our Database is updated on a regular basis. For more details about imprisoned Orthodox Christians, see https://hrwf.eu/prisoners-database/.
[4] European Parliament, Resolution on Eritrea, notably the cases of Abune Antonios and Dawit Isaak (2017/2755(RSP)) July 6, 2017. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2017-0309_EN.html.
[5]  United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report, USCIRF-
Recommended countries of particular concern: Eritrea 2018, 2018. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Tier1_ERITREA.pdf.
[6] “UN Expert Urges Eritrea to Allow Religious Institutions to Operate Freely and Respect
the Right of Freedom of Religion,” OHCHR, June 21, 2019.
https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24721&LangID=E.
[7] “Crackdown on Christians in Eritrea Spurs UN Expert to Press Government ‘to Live up to
Its International Commitments’ UN News,” United Nations, June 21, 2019.
https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/06/1041041.
Read on HRWF.eu



IRAN: Four Christian converts started serving five-year prison sentences

– Middle East Concern (05.06.2020) – https://meconcern.org/2020/06/05/iran-four-christian-converts-serve-five-year-prison-sentences/ Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafadar obeyed a summons issued on 28 May. They had been released on bail of about $13,000 each last July. They presented themselves at Evan Prison on 2 June to begin serving their five-year sentence.

 

They were among nine Christian converts belonging to the “Church of Iran” denomination who were arrested over a four-week period at the beginning of 2019, accused of endangering state security and promoting Zionism. Following a disagreement with the judge over the choice of a defence lawyer, the other five men were immediately transferred to Evin prison, as they were unable to meet extortionate bail demands of about $130,000 each.

 

In October 2019 all nine were convicted of “acting against national security” and each sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. The sentences were upheld on appeal in February 2020.

 

Of the four men who presented themselves at Evin Prison earlier this week, three are married with families, while Mohammad is single.