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CAG refugees struggle for asylum status in democratic countries

Better Country of Origin Information (COI) led to favorable decisions in some countries—but not all courts are aware of them.


By Massimo Introvigne


Bitter Winter (12.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/3nk7q0n – Although the COVID-19 pandemic made escaping China and entering democratic countries more difficult, administrative commissions and courts continue to hear cases concerning Chinese refugees. The largest number of religion-related asylum cases concerning Chinese citizens refers to members of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), a Chinese Christian new religious movement that is currently the most persecuted religious group in China.


The outcome of their asylum proceedings largely depend on which COI (Country of Origin Information) about both the situation of religious liberty in China and the CAG are available to, and relied upon, by the commissions and courts involved.


The first decisions about CAG asylum seekers were mostly negative, and based on COI with incomplete and often erroneous information on the Church. There were two reasons for this. First, COI are based either on scholarly studies or on journalistic sources. The latter, even when published in the West, mostly reflected official Chinese publications that tried to justify the persecution of the CAG. For independent scholars studying the CAG in China, where it is heavily persecuted, is virtually impossible. Serious academic studies on the CAG started appearing after the Church established communities in democratic countries, i.e. from 2015 on, and became significant after 2017, in turn influencing some quality media. Second, as Bitter Winter has repeatedly learned from lawyers involved in asylum proceedings, Chinese embassies and consulates continue to supply authorities in the countries where the refugees arrive with hostile information about the CAG.


Even when produced by governmental agencies, most pre-2017 COI on CAG were inadequate, and often repeated fake news spread from the Chinese propaganda. Starting in 2017, however, the situation changed. While scholars had criticized COI produced in 2014 by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, often quoted in European decisions, the Canadian Board released new and updated COI in 2019, after consulting with the leading Western scholars who had written about the CAG.


In the same year, the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs published its COI (in Italian) on the CAG and its persecution in China. A parallel COI report by the same Ministry highlighted how CAG members abroad are kept under surveillance and identified through facial recognition, so that they can be arrested if they return to China. Finally, in 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands published new COI on China, with a substantial section on the CAG. In 2019 and 2020, the Department of State of the United States also examined the persecution of the CAG in its yearly reports on religious liberty.


Although a CAG believer may find occasional incorrect details when CAG theology is mentioned, these documents from 2019 and 2020 are based on a serious and commendable effort to deal with the scholarly literature on CAG now available. Based on these COI, it should be possible for CAG refugees to be recognized as members of a persecuted minority, whose reasonable and justified “fear of persecution” should they return to China entitles them to asylum in democratic countries.


This is indeed the case when the new COI are read and used. For example, several decisions issued after the new Dutch COI were published granted asylum in the Netherlands to CAG believers. In Italy, several decisions, including two by the Supreme Court, were also favorable to CAG refugees.


Unfortunately, however, we still see decisions where old COI are used, the new COI are ignored, and unfounded arguments are invoked to conclude that CAG refugees are not entitled to asylum. Bitter Winter has learned of a recent negative decision in Italy that is somewhat typical in this respect, but examples also exist in other countries.


Some decisions recognize that there is no religious liberty in China, and that the CAG is persecuted, but regard the individual story of the CAG asylum seeker as not believable. Refugees who arrive in a new country may sometimes be afraid and confused, and not capable of clearly reporting their stories. It is also the case that the official translators provided by the commissions may not offer the high translation quality that would be needed in such delicate cases.


Commissions should look at the larger picture rather than looking for contradictions in lesser details. Since, as the most recent COI confirm, being a member of the CAG is enough to be arrested and jailed in China, once the fact that an asylum seeker belongs to the CAG is proved, the “fear of persecution” should be regarded as proved too.


There are, however, decisions that do not recognize the existence of a religious persecution in China or that the CAG is persecuted. Some seem to trust more the information spread by the Chinese embassies than the COI of their own governments (in Italy, one decision continued to quote outdated COI from the University of Rome, while new ones from the Ministry of Internal Affairs are available). In rare cases, governmental COIs and scholarly studies are dismissed as coming from sources “hostile to China”—which would of course disqualify almost all scholars and international human rights bodies who have dealt with China, as they unanimously concluded that human rights are not respected there. Unbelievably, Chinese propaganda claiming that religious liberty prevails in the country is believed, together with the fake news about the CAG, and this despite the fact that recent COI produced by governments tell a different story.


It is also false to argue that only scholars and governments hostile to China report about the persecution of the CAG. In fact, these news often come from the Chinese government itself. An official Chinese Web site on the repression of the xie jiao (religious groups banned by the government) has a section on court cases, and informs weekly on decisions sentencing CAG members to several years in jail only because they practice and spread their faith. China operates the largest data base of legal decisions in the world. Although it does not include all decisions rendered in China, searching for cases involving CAG devotees leads to find hundreds of them sentenced to severe jail penalties for the only “crimes” of gathering for worship, evangelizing, or keeping at home CAG literature. The conclusion is that the information about the persecution of the CAG in China does not come from governments and scholars critical of China only. It comes primarily from the Chinese authorities themselves.


Finally, some decisions continue to argue that, if the CAG asylum seekers had been really persecuted in China, they should not have been able to obtain a passport. If they obtained a passport, some European decisions state, this is the proof that they were not persecuted.


A legal answer to this argument is that the asylum seekers should not prove they were persecuted in China, but that they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” (Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, Article 1 of the 1967 Refugee Protocol, Article 2 of the 2011 European Union Recast Qualification Directive). As the Italian COI on CAG and facial recognition specifies, even if the refugees were not known as CAG members in China, when they obtained the passport, they are known to the Chinese authorities as CAG believers now, because China keeps watch of the CAG and other dissident Chinese communities abroad, and identifies its members through facial recognition. If they go back to China, they will be arrested.


But there is also a factual answer. Once again, when stating categorically that a member of a persecuted group cannot obtain a passport in China, some European decisions rely on outdated COI on Chinese security, and also on a faulty logic. Chinese security systems are not infallible, and as the 2020 Dutch COI on China report, can possibly be overcome “through bribery.”


Plain logic should also help in concluding that obtaining a passport for a CAG member is not impossible. Every month, Chinese sources report that dozens of CAG members have been identified and arrested. While this proves persecution, it also proves that there are thousands of CAG believers who have not yet been identified as such (otherwise, they would have been arrested before). Before they are identified as CAG members, they live in a situation of risk and “well-founded fear” (as they can be identified or exposed at any time, particularly because those who denounce them receive significant monetary rewards), but can still be able to obtain a passport.


Obviously, political considerations interact with the purely legal ones. In certain countries, the desire not to antagonize China may prevail on other considerations. Yet, administrative commissions and courts should recognize that in China there is no religious liberty, that CAG is severely persecuted, that being identified as a CAG member is enough to go to jail for several years, and that China keeps a watch on CAG communities abroad and knows who is active there. These are all facts, easy to be proved, and acknowledged by COI published by governmental authorities. Those who send back to China CAG asylum seekers should know they are sending them to jail, or worse.

Photo: Refugees of The Church of Almighty God. Credit: Bitter Winter.

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CHINA:Special Weekly FoRB Newsletter (22-28.09.2020)

28.09.20 – Church-run schools eliminated to advance patriotic education

The CCP cracks down on educational institutions with ties to places of worship to ensure that the young generation receives only “proper” communist training.

 Continue reading…

28.09.20- Islamic symbols and inscriptions purged in Henan

The provincial government banned in April all Islam-related writings and symbols on public signages and private residences, also in businesses, like shops and cafes.

Continue reading…

28.09.20 – Detention facilities in Xinjiang: there are more, not less

The report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and other sources, confirm that the CCP propaganda claim that camps are being closed is a lie.

Continue reading…

 27.09.20 – Shouters sentenced to jail penalties in Anhui

Six members of the movement received jail terms up to five years in Ma’anshan City.

Continue reading…

26.09.20 – One more priest tortured to force him into official church

Father Liu Maochun from the Diocese of Mindong, who refuses to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, was arrested and deprived of sleep to break his will.

Continue reading…

26.09.20 – CCP continues to destroy Uyghur families: The story of Mirehmet

He and his brother live a successful life abroad. This is a crime in China, and a third brother has “disappeared” after having been arrested

 Continue reading…

25.09.20 – Ethnic Kazakhs arrested: A relative fears violence and jail rape

Gulaisha Oralbay speaks out. Her brother and two sisters have received heavy sentences to be purged in a notorious jail for crimes the Chinese authorities have refused to disclose to her.

Continue reading…

24.09.20 – CCP rewriting The Gospel: Jesus actually “killed” The woman taken in adultery

The story in John 8 is presented to Chinese students as one where the Savior waits for the Pharisees to leave, then stones the adulterer himself.

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23.09.20 – Tibetan buddhism ‘sinicized’ across inland China

Implementing President Xi Jinping’s orders to advance the ‘sinicization’ of Tibetan Buddhism, local authorities eradicate traditional architecture and symbols.

Continue reading…

23.09.20 – 63 MPs from all over the world call for “magnitsky-style” action protesting cultural genocide in Tibet

A statement by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) builds upon Dr. Adrian Zenz’s new findings to denounce atrocities and Western immobilism.

Continue reading…

22.09.20 – Militarized labor training and indoctrination: Xinjiang schemes exported to Tibet

Although not necessarily involving detention, the CCP’s militarized training of Tibetan workers, sent to work far from home, is suspiciously similar to what is being done to the Uyghurs.

Continue reading…

22.09.20 – More demolitions of temples and religious statues in Hubei

In May, the CCP launched another large-scale drive against Buddhist and Taoist venues in central China’s province where the coronavirus originated.

Continue reading…

22.09.20 – Nearly 120 Church of Almighty God members arrested

In August, authorities in Zhejiang and Shandong provinces launched unified arrest operations, utilizing the data collected through long-term tracking of believers.

 Continue reading…

22.09.20 – Official catholic church: State-approved, hounded nonetheless

joining the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association does not mean that persecutions end: state-sanctioned venues are also harassed, unduly controlled, and shut.

Continue reading…

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CHINA: Suffered repeated arrests and fled to Italy

HRWF (26.08.2020) – Mr. Zhiwen (pseudonym) was born in 1972 in Jiangxi Province, China. Already as a youngster he followed his mother in her Christian faith. He joined The Church of Almighty God (CAG) in 2000. On many occasions, the CCP tried to arrest him. The following arrest attempts and torture activities caused a fractured ankle and head injuries. In 2015 he felt forced to flee China and seek asylum in Italy. The following is a description of his experiences as shared with Human Rights Without Frontiers.


Church demolished twice


“We attended meetings of a house church and were often harassed by the CCP government. Officials of the township government would periodically burst into our meetings to restrict the topics of our sermons, as well as telling us where we could spread the gospel. They also forced us to become part of the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Church. After we refused to do that, our church was demolished. We rebuilt it but the government tore it down again, arrested the preacher of our church, and put him in prison.”


First arrest attempt


“In August 2000, I accepted The Almighty God’s message. Because I often spread the gospel, village committee officials and police officers repeatedly asked me to renounce my faith. They warned me that if I carried on believing in God and spreading the gospel, I would be sentenced to prison. One day, several officers from the local Police Station forced themselves into the home of my family without showing their credentials and searched it without a warrant. Our house was completely turned upside down. Seeing that I was not at home, they took my mother instead. Since then, I dared not go back home. I started a life on the run, moving from place to place.”


Fractured ankle during escape from second arrest


“One day in June 2005, while I was preaching the gospel in an apartment, five to six policemen suddenly arrived and surrounded the building. Desperate as I was, I broke the wooden window frames of the restroom and escaped out of the window, letting myself fall down from the second floor. Several policemen blocked my way and one of them grabbed me by my clothes. I got myself lose and kept running, with the three policemen not far behind me. I ran through a paddy field and rough terrain. I then hid myself for some time in some thatches. I later hitched a ride to the hospital. The whole ordeal took long to recover, and to this day I cannot stand, or walk for a long time, or carry heavy objects.”


Police brutality caused serious injuries


“One day in the winter of 2012, I went to preach the gospel to a brother’s relatives. Soon four policemen showed up. They shouted at us loudly and condemned our gospel-preaching activities as disturbing the social order. Meanwhile, the police called up dozens of others to surround and attack me. When they caught me, they beat me with wooden sticks that were more than three feet long and three inches thick. I was pulled by my hair, struck near my temples, and hit in the chest. I was in shambles and fainted. The police car soon arrived and I was taken, without them showing their credentials. I had been beaten so badly that my head seemed to explode.


At the police station, I was interrogated about church information. But my pain was excruciating and my body shaking all over; I foamed at the mouth. Then I was taken to the county Public Security Bureau. As they were getting me out of the car, I could not even stand, and I fell on the ground. When they realized I was about to die, they left me in front of the gate. Later, a brother took me to hospital to give me the medical attention I needed. The recovery lasted more than a year. However, I still have sequelae of the injuries incurred, as I remain having dreadful headaches.”

Fleeing from a third arrest attempt


“While I was recovering, two brothers with whom I had spread the gospel were arrested by the police. The officers had found a notebook with my name and address in it in their possession. I was warned by other brothers and sisters that the police were out to find me. I fled before I was arrested.”


Fleeing to Italy, but no safety yet


“Between 2013 and May of 2015, I had moved house a total of thirty different times. But wherever I went, there seemed no way to avoid arrest or persecution. In China there was nowhere safe for me any more and the only way to remain free was to flee. In 2015 I managed to get a passport and to reach Italy where I sought refuge.


Unfortunately, in December 2018, my application was rejected by the Italian Territorial Commission. In the meantime I filed for appeal. I am now deeply concerned that I might be sent back to China one day.”

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Inhumane persecution suffered in China before fleeing to Italy

HRWF (26.08.2020) – Chen Xin (pseudonym) was born in Fujian Province, China. He was a Christian from his childhood and joined The Church of Almighty God (CAG) in 2002. His faith, and connecting activities, caused his arrest in 2003 and his sentence of one-year detention in a labor camp. During that time he was subjected to severe punishments, and forced to do 14 hours a day hard labor. In October 2015 he fled to Italy and filed an application for asylum. He shared his experiences with Human Rights Without Frontiers.


Arrested for carrying a Bible and religious books


“On the night of June 30, 2003, when Brother Wu and I went to his relative’s home to spread the gospel, we were stopped by the police at a fork in the road. They forcibly took away my laptop bag to search it. As soon as they found the Bible and some CAG books, they called the local Religious Affairs Bureau and took us to a border police station.”


Interrogated, tortured, and sentenced to one-year imprisonment


“In order to get information from me about church leaders and church assets, the Religious Affairs Bureau officials and the police interrogated and tortured me. They violently slapped me in the face, beat, and kicked me. They pulled my hands from my back and tied my thumbs together tightly with a hemp cord. It hurt so bad that I could not sleep a wink that whole night. On the second day, the cord had already cut deep wounds in my flesh, and my thumbs were black and felt numb. Then the police ordered me to do the horse-riding stance. In less than two minutes it caused me to sweat and I was unable to control the trembling in my hands and feet. The policeman first slapped me various times, and then hit on my head with a book. My face was burning with pain and I heard a ringing in my ears. They then put a motorcycle helmet on my head and banged my head on the wall continuously for seven to eight times. The strikes caused me to feel dizzy and made me vomit, until I collapsed on the floor. The policeman then forcibly took me back again into the interrogation room. Seeing that I still refused to confess, a policeman made me kneel down, with my knees on the edge of a metal pan of only ten centimeters in diameter. Its edge penetrated deeply into my knees, making me suffer unbearably into the bones. After kneeling for about one minute, my whole body trembled. I felt dizzy, and soon fell on the ground.


Without any proof and with no officially recognized legal process, the CCP government charged me of belonging to a xie jiao organization, and sentenced me to one year of detention in a labor camp.”


Stripped naked and forced to do slave labor


“In China’s prisons believers in God are deemed to be the leading political criminals, meaning that both jailers and convicts can abuse and insult them at will. As soon as I entered the cell, the guards started to incite the other convicts to torturing me. They forced me to get completely naked, do a half squat, and open my mouth wide in front of everybody. Then by throwing a continuous jet of water into my face they almost suffocated me.


Life in the labor camp was inhuman. The cells are less than fifty square meters, and house more than seventy people, with horrible sanitary conditions. Every day we had plain rice which contained insects, and a bowl of vegetable soup with seven or eight worms, and no oil. As a result of the lack of nutrition, my body was swollen everywhere. Often I had allergic reactions. In the camp, I had to perform hard labor for fourteen hours each day, without any remuneration. The needles caused blisters in my hands, causing great pain. I was given no bandages. Doing hard labor for such a long time, combined with hunger, gradually made me sick. I was given no medical attention. During the night I often heard the cries and screams of fellow convicts who were beaten by other inmates or the guards. It was so horrible. The prisoner in the bed opposite to mine had tried to commit suicide. All of those scenes occupied my mind from time to time, and I often woke up from nightmares. These ten months went by in pain, fear, and great suffering.


After I was released, the village officials repeatedly showed up at my house to be checked. The police threatened me with another arrest in case I believed in God.


To avoid being arrested again by the Chinese Communist Government, and for my family’s safety, I had no choice but to leave my home, and run away. I continued practicing my faith in other places while doing odd jobs.”


Fleeing China


“In July 2008, I was reported to the police by a couple when I had shared the gospel with them. I had to leave from there quickly.


During a decade on the run, the CCP police often searched for believers in God under pretense of checking for a so called Temporary Resident Permit. This caused me to live in constant fear, and to suffer miserably.


In July 2015, a brother in our church was arrested by the police; I, myself, was also seen in the security video they had. The police called my home phone to ask my whereabouts. They monitored the phone so they could find me and arrest me. Realizing that I lived in greater danger and that I had no place to hide in China, I decided to flee the country, and seek for asylum abroad.


Sometime later, using connections and money, I obtained a passport. In October 2015, I successfully fled to Italy. Once there I filed for asylum. Unfortunately, the Italian Immigration Department denied my application twice because of fabricated misinformation by the CCP. I appealed to the Supreme Court and am currently awaiting for a final decision. I sincerely hope the international community can truly stand behind those who are persecuted, rather than intentionally ignoring the CCP’s persecution of Christians.”

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