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HRWF / Bitter Winter (14.09.2018) – https://bit.ly/2peZBg1 – Speeches of Massimo Introvigne and Rosita Šorytė at the 2018 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Warsaw, September 13, 2018.

 

Massimo Introvigne, the repression of religion in China: consequences for OSCE Participating States

 

On February 1, 2018, a new Religious Affairs Regulation came into force in China. The consensus of legal experts is that it imposed new restrictions on the “gray market” of religions and churches that are not part of the five official government-controlled religious institutions. It also provided new tools for persecuting the religious communities in the “black market,” included in the official list of xie jiao, “heterodox teachings” that are entirely prohibited and persecuted. Being active in a xie jiao is a crime punished by art. 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code with a term to three to seven years “or more” in jail.

 

Tibet and Xinjiang have special regulations, but the general climate hostile to religion has led to increased persecution of Uyghur and ethnically Kazakh Muslims in Xinjiang and dissident Buddhists in Tibet. Scholars estimate that “transformation through education” camps, which are in fact concentration camps, host 1,5 million inmates, two-thirds of them Uyghurs.

 

OSCE participating States have multiple relations with China, and we would encourage them to raise human rights and religious liberty issues in a more decisive way in bilateral meetings.

 

The OSCE space is also affected by the situation in China, as participating States receive a growing number of religion-based asylum requests by Chinese citizens. The largest contingents of them are Uyghurs, particularly in Central Asia, and members of religions listed as xie jiao, particularly in Western Europe and North America. There are still refugees from Falun Gong but in recent years the highest number comes from The Church of Almighty God, a Chinese Christian new religious movement listed as a xie jiao since 1995 and credited by governmental sources with some four million members in China. The Church of Almighty God has been persecuted since 1995 or before, and more than 300,000 members of the Church have been detained in China. Some NGOs have documented several instances of torture and extra-judicial killings. It has also been targeted by consistent campaigns of fake news, accusing it of crimes rigorous investigation by Western scholars proved it has not committed.

 

Because of the fake news, general hostility to refugees, and confusions about how refugee laws should be interpreted, out of more than 2,200 asylum requests of members of this Church in the OSCE area, excluding the United States, only 320 have been accepted.

 

We commend Canada and Sweden for its prevalence of favorable decisions and note that the Italian authorities have started a cooperation with scholars for receiving more accurate information on this and other groups.

 

But in other countries, most of the asylum seekers of The Church of Almighty God and other persecuted Chinese religions are rejected and, in some cases, deported back to China where they quickly “disappear.”

 

We recommend that serious and fair consideration be given to religion-based asylum requests by Chinese refugees, including those from The Church of Almighty God, in all participating states, and that nobody should be deported without seriously evaluating the risks he or she would face in China, which may include incarceration, torture, and even death.

 

Rosita Šorytė, Intolerance and Discrimination Against Religion-Based Refugees from China in the OSCE Area: The Case of The Church of Almighty God

 

These days there are a few issues that are particularly toxic in our societies: refugees and China. And my very young and still very small organization – ORLIR – is dealing with both of them.

 

We see how the issue of migration is turning apart countries, changing alliances, and helping populists of all kind to rise to power. It took us and media a long time to finally acknowledge that most of those people who massively arriving in Europe are not refugees but migrants. Still in the media confusion persists and very often information is inaccurate and blurred.

 

We all know that there is a big difference between migrants, searching for a better economic life, and refugees, who for reasons of war and persecution are fleeing their countries of origin. Some of these people have only two choices: to be persecuted, tortured and even killed, or flee their country and try to seek protection.

 

I perfectly understand the challenge for the authorities of recipient countries to distinguish who is persecuted and in imminent danger, and who is pretending for the sake of getting the right to stay. My humble experience of talking to many refugees shows that those who are pretending being persecuted and are better actors and are getting refugee status. And those who are in real danger very often fail to prove their case and thus are sent back to their oppressors.

 

I could tell many moving and tragic stories of people who flee severe persecution in China on religious grounds. I will focus today on members of a new Christian group called The Church of Almighty God. The Church of Almighty God is one of the largest and fastest growing religious groups in China. And this is exactly why it is severely persecuted. Any member identified by Chinese authorities would be sent to jail, most of them will be tortured in order to extract information about other members of the Church. They will be sent to re-education camps and, once released, will be kept under watch, and eventually put in jail again if they would not agree to cooperate with Chinese authorities and renounce their faith. Cases of suspect organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience of this Church have also been reported.

 

Most members of The Church of Almighty God would flee their country only and when they have confirmed information that their arrest is imminent. They do not flee to seek our jobs or get financial or economic benefits but to survive and protect other brothers and sisters of their group. By fleeing China, they lose everything: their families, friends, homes, and jobs. They arrive in our countries with nothing but their faith and their hope that fellow brothers and sisters would support them. They arrive carrying a lot of pain and deep trauma. Very often, out of fear, they are not able to present their cases well enough and end up being denied asylum or even being deported.

 

On August 31, despite protests by the Red Cross, the German Evangelical Lutheran Church, and several NGOs, including mine, a member of this Church, sister Zhao Xueliang, was deported back to China from Germany. She has “disappeared” in China and her whereabouts are unknown ever since. My pleading today to the representatives of the participating States is, please hear and remember the name of The Church of Almighty God. Please carry out serious research about this group, do not believe what Chinese media, and Western media that copy them, are saying but read reliable information from independent NGOs and academic sources. We have no right to play with people’s lives and we cannot send them to their death.

 

Another toxic issue is to talk about China. Yes, China spares no efforts and financial means to persuade us that there are no human rights problems there. They bribe and buy everybody they can: politicians, journalists, even academics who would be paid to say that what we are presenting to you today it’s not true. Some of the meetings we organize during international political or academic conferences are half empty because people know: once you will be spotted by Chinese authorities participating in this kind of meetings, you will never go to China again. China plays an important role at the United Nations to kill every mention of human rights, and human rights are rarely part of the agendas of bilateral meetings either because everybody wants to have good economics contracts with China. But, if we cannot change Chinese politics, perhaps we can at least protect those who flee Chinese persecution. It is not only our moral duty to protect those who are in imminent danger. States have a legal obligation under international law.

 

Footnote

The paper of HRWF on this issue was already published in our newsletter.

 

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Also:

HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries: https://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/ 
List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: https://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/  

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