CHINA-ITALY: A court in Rome rules that asylum-seekers of the Church of Almighty God deserve the highest protection

Excerpts from an article of Massimo Introvigne in Bitter Winter. See the full article HERE

Bitter Winter (27.06.2024)/ Excerpts – On June 14, in an exemplary decision judging a CAG asylum seeker, represented by specialized lawyers Amalia Astory and Laura Bondi, as deserving “the higher level of protection” in Italy, the Tribunal of Rome answered the question by mentioning as “reliable sources” “Bitter Winter,” reports by the U.S. and other governments that quote “Bitter Winter,” and a statement by the late sociologist PierLuigi Zoccatelli, who was deputy director of CESNUR, “Bitter Winter”’s parent organization. It is significant and moving that, a few weeks after his death, Zoccatelli was still able to help asylum seekers and perhaps save lives. As the Romans of old said, “mortuus adhuc loquitur,” sometimes those who have preceded us in death still speak with a powerful, and effective voice.The case concerned a woman from Shanxi who had joined the CAG in 2013. Her parents were also CAG members and persecuted as such. When the fact of her parents’ membership in the banned church was disclosed, she was expelled from her university, although the latter did not know that she was a CAG devotee herself. She went into hiding but, as persecution against the CAG increased, she escaped to Italy in December 2018.

There, an administrative commission, perhaps influenced by Chinese propaganda, refused to grant her asylum. She appealed to the Tribunal of Rome, which has now ruled in her favor.

Quoting Italian government sources, which in turn refer to “Bitter Winter,” “a study by sociologist Pier Luigi Zoccatelli,” and the U.S. State Department reports on religious liberty (which also quoted “Bitter Winter”), the Tribunal first dismissed the common objection that, if they were really persecuted, CAG members should not be able to obtain a passport and pass the facial recognition tests at international airports. The judges stated that “corruption of public officials is extremely widespread and therefore it is not very difficult to obtain a passport for expatriation even for members of The Church of Almighth God Many members of The Church of Almighty God may then have escaped the surveillance system of the Chinese government and police. According to Zoccatelli, checks at Chinese airports may be ineffective and the facial detection systems themselves can be easily circumvented.”

Furthermore, the Tribunal acknowledged “the repressive policy adopted by Chinese government authorities against all religious movements that do not submit to registration and control by the state,” and the extensive interpretation of Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code against “xie jiao” by Chinese courts. “Specifically,” the Tribunal explains, “regarding believers in the Church of Almighty God, the sources report that: ‘being active in any capacity in the Church of Almighty God is considered a crime in China, and exposes [a believer] to severe prison sentences.’” The court also notes that, “There are at least two cases of followers of The Church of Almighty God expatriated to South Korea who were allegedly tortured by Chinese authorities upon their return to China.”

The Tribunal also notes that in China, “Economic incentives and rewards are provided to anyone who provides information about Christians and members of the Church of Almighty God. Electronic devices have been installed in the cars and transportation vehicles of Christians to track their movements. College, middle school and elementary school students are subjected to a Faith Questionnaire in order for authorities to learn about their beliefs and those of their families.”

“In conclusion,” the Tribunal states, “considering the fear of persecution on religious grounds experienced by the applicant to be well-founded, the appeal must be considered worthy of being granted with reference to the highest form of protection.”

Further reading about FORB in China and in Italy on HRWF website