CHINA: More than 10,000 Church of Almighty God members were arrested in 2022
More than 3,000 were tortured and at least 14 were killed. These are the shocking figures of the church’s own yearly report on persecution. And they are believable.
By Massimo Introvigne
Bitter Winter (16/02/2023) – “The most persecuted religious movement in China.” This was, in 2020, the subtitle of my book “Inside The Church of Almighty God” (CAG), published by Oxford University Press. It received positive reviews by specialized scholars (included by a leading Sinologist, David Ownby, in the authoritative “Journal of the American Academy of Religion”) and enjoyed better-than-usual sales for an academic book.
However, after three years, there is the risk that news about the persecution of the CAG in China would have a lesser impact on Western audiences, due to a phenomenon called “persecution fatigue,” which scholars have studied with respect to the kidnapping and killing of thousands of Christians in Nigeria.
In 2014, when the first Christian girls in Nigeria were kidnapped, raped, and in some cases killed, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama joined hundreds of other celebrities throughout the world and was photographed holding a poster “Bring Back Our Girls.” After nine years, unfortunately kidnapping and killing Christians in Nigeria has become routine, and news about it struggle to find a few lines in the internal pages of the Western newspapers.
The same may happen with the CAG in China. With the exception of Bitter Winter, not many media remind the world that the persecution continues. The CAG itself publishes a yearly report with data on the persecution, and the report for 2022 has been published last week. Somebody may object that these data come from the CAG itself: how can we be sure that they are true? The answer is that for the precise figures we should trust the CAG, but the CAG or Bitter Winter are not the only or even the main source about the movement’s persecution in China.
The first source is the Chinese government itself. It has a specialized website coordinating the fight against religious movements banned as “xie jiao” (“heterodox teachings,” sometimes translated as “evil cults”) in China, operated by a China Anti-Xie-Jiao association that is an emanation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Every week, this website hails the success of the Chinese police in fighting the xie jiao, and dozens of articles chronicle the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing to heavy jail terms of CAG members throughout China. Local national and Chinese media also publish the same news from time to time, and they confirm that the figures offered by the CAG’s own reports are highly believable.
What are these figures? While admitting that its statistics may be incomplete, the CAG reports that “between 2011 and the end of 2022, more than 430,000 CAG Christians were arrested by the Chinese authorities, and the documented number of believers who have died as a result of persecution since the Church’s establishment has reached 231.” Additionally, “at least 10,895 CAG Christians were arrested in 2022; of them, 3,257 were subjected to torture” or psychological pressure, and “1,901 were given prison sentences.
Of those sentenced, 1002 received sentences of three years or more, 116 received sentences of seven years or more, and 19 were given heavy sentences of 10 years or more.” An additional source is the Association for the Defense of Human Rights and Religious Freedom (ADHRRF), which has published information on 4,056 CAG members detained in the year 2022 in its database of prisoners of conscience. It should be added that “a total of at least RMB 240 million (approximately USD $35.37 million) in assets were appropriated and illegally held from The Church of Almighty God and its members by the CCP in 2022.”
2022 was the third year of the CCP’s campaign, called an “all-out war,” seeking a “final solution” to eradicate the CAG. The preparation of the 20th National Congress of the CCP saw a “Clean-up 2022” special operation launched to further suppress the CAG.
The report states that, “Out of all the provinces nationwide, persecution in Anhui and Jiangsu was most severe; by the end of December, the number of known arrests of [CAG] Christians in Jiangsu totaled 1,343, while in Anhui it totaled 1,360.” Sentences were heavy, particularly against those CAG believers who sent evidence of the CAG persecution to foreign media, including Bitter Winter. This was, for example, the only “crime” for which a CAG member was sentenced to the long jail term of 15 years in 2022.
According to the report, at least 14 CAG members were victims of extra-judicial killings. They included Liu Jianjun, a 50-year-old believer from Jiangsu who, as it often happens in China, was detained in an hotel for secret interrogation. He died after ten days.
“The autopsy showed a large, blunt trauma to the head, blood clotting in the cranium and chest cavity, three fractured ribs, and no food residue in the stomach or intestines,” meaning he had not been given any food during his last days. Zhu Xiaohong, a 37-year-old woman, also from Jiangsu, committed suicide after several days of torture. When relatives could see her body, they noticed that “her entire face was swollen, there were wounds on her right cheekbone, blood in the corners of both eyes, and both nostrils were bloodstained.”
Others, including Huang Fenfang in Jiangxi and Fan Limin in Shandong, were not properly cured after the authorities had learned they had cancer. When she started having health problems, Huang was not allowed to cease the hard labor she was subjected to. She “was required to fold between 2,400 and 3,200 joss paper ingots every day, and was made to stand for long periods without rest as punishment if she didn’t complete the allotted amount.” “The detention house food was very poor-quality, lacking oil and salt, and rations were meager.” Doctors admitted to the family that Huang’s cancer “was directly correlated with her depression, inadequate nutrition, and hard labor in jail.”
Several believers reported torture. Wu Hua, a 58-year-old female victim of the crackdown in Jiangsu province, reported she was interrogated about the church’s situation in her area. As she would not cooperate, “They locked each of her hands and feet separately to ring buckles on the interrogation chair so that her entire body was dangling off the chair, taped a jug of water to the front of her chest, and then picked up the chair and swung it around forcefully.”
Before she almost miraculously managed to escape, Wu was tortured again. “They locked each of her hands and feet separately to ring buckles on the interrogation chair so that her entire body was dangling off the chair, taped a jug of water to the front of her chest, and then picked up the chair and swung it around forcefully,” the report says.
A 48-year-old believer from Henan reported that “the police smacked her across the face dozens of times, then used the ‘threading the rod’ form of torture on her, cuffing both her hands and feet, making her squat down and hug her knees, threading a wooden rod behind her knees and in front of her arms, then lifting her up so her body was suspended. One officer hit her on the soles of her feet with a rubber rod while another continued smacking her in the face.”
They then “used a suspension form of torture, handcuffing both her wrists and hanging her from a pole by the handcuffs, then tying her right foot to the rod with a rope so that her left leg was dangling in the air. One officer hit her repeatedly in the right foot with a rubber rod while another smacked her in the face, beating her and interrogating her simultaneously. They continued this torture until she lost consciousness again. The questioning continued after the police used water to awaken her. They used metal rods to viciously beat her in the ribs, making her tremble uncontrollably in pain, and also electrocuted her with electric batons until she passed out.”
These stories continue for pages and pages, and those wanting to have a complete picture should read the 2022 report, as well as the reports for the previous years. They can also read my Oxford book, where I report several torture and extra-judicial killing cases based on sworn affidavits by those who were tortured and managed to escape abroad (in some cases, supported by medical records), and by eyewitnesses and relatives in the cases of those who died.
These affidavits were also filed as enclosures to complaints lodged with the United Nations Human Rights Council. While there are no affidavits in the 2022 report, the fact that the stories there are so similar to those documented in my book certainly supports the conclusion that they are true.
This means that nothing has changed since 2020. During and after the COVID lockdown, the CCP has continued to persecute, arrest, torture, and in some cases kill, thousands of CAG members in China. Again, you should not take CAG’s or Bitter Winter’s word for it. There are plenty of CCP’s own documents and reports in the Chinese media proving that the Chinese authorities have vowed to eradicate the CAG “like a tumor,” as they said, without regard for the beliefs, human rights, liberty, or life of the devotees they so mercilessly persecute.
Photo: A summary of the report’s findings.
Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. 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 some 70 books and more than 100 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 and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio. 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). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.