EU member states urged to consider asylum for religious group members facing "persecution" in China

The authorities in China are waging a “new war” on religious minorities, a hearing in the European Parliament was told.

The hearing, organised by the respected Brussels-based NGO, Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), was told by Italian academic Massimo Introvigne, the crackdown is “the worst since the Cultural Revolution.”

Introvigne, director of the Centre for Studies on New Religions, told the meeting that at least 1 million people had been targeted and described the situation as “very alarming.”

The conference focused on one particular group HRWF says is at the forefront  of the purge: the Church of Almighty God (CAG) which has some 3m members in China.

Introducing the hearing, Czech centre right MEP Tomas Zdechovsky, a member of the civil liberties committee and the parliament’s China delegation, told the audience another problem linked to the crackdown had been a big rise in the number of asylum applications by CAG members.

The said many member states were reluctant to condemn China over their plight because of the “economic ties” they have to Beijing.

He said, “However, it is vitally important that we have an open discussion about this. This is not an attack on China but a means of speaking out in defence of human rights.”

His comments were endorsed by Introvigne, an expert in the field, who said many CAG members had been forced to undergo “re-education” programmes which had left some suffering mental breakdowns due to the “severe” conditions they were held in.

He said, “CAG is a non-political movement and does not advocate violence of any kind but its members are being persecuted in China.”

His think tank had evidence, he said, of CAG members being tortured and dying while in detention, often on trumped up charges.

“This is happening purely for political reasons and because the Chinese state wants to eradicate this and other religious beliefs.”

“China is waging a war on religion, the like of which we have not seen since the Cultural Revolution, and the CAG is the No. one enemy.”

Another speaker, Rosita Soryte, president of the International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees in Lithuania, said relatively little was known about the situation at EU level but an additional issue was that, apart from the US and Canada, many countries had rejected asylum claims from members of CAG who had fled “torture and persecution” in China.

She had evidence of 400 CAG members who had been detained “arbitrarily” in China, in most cases being wrongly accused of crimes they never committed.

She said, “Another huge problem is that details of those who have sought asylum have been released publicly which puts their lives in real danger.”

Aaron Rhodes, president of the Forum for Religious Freedom in Austria, said the issue was also of “paramount concern” because of the “huge influence” China now commands.

Numbers of people from different religious denominations, including CAG, who were being arrested and imprisoned were at the highest levels for many years in China, he noted.

He told the hearing, “The Chinese state has become more intrusive and surveillance is growing.Its crackdown on Muslims has also put it on a collision course with Islamic radicalisation, the thing it is supposed to be resisting.”

Research on the issue conducted by Lea Perekrests, deputy director of HRWF, was disseminated at the meeting.

The group, she said, has been working to investigate and track the stories of Church of Almighty God (CAG) members over the past months.

She said, “We have closely following the cases of arrest, torture, and asylum processes.What has been discovered through these statistics is that CAG members who remain active in China will likely face arrest and subsequent torture.

“But CAG members are not frequently granted asylum in foreign countries and upon the return to China after failing to receive asylum they will most likely face arrest.”

She related the cases of several members,including a 50 year old female diabetic who was arrested recently at Beijing airport and had not been heard of since, plus a young couple who had been  arrested and “tortured for weeks.”

She said,  “We have evidence of 31 members, 20 of whom were severely tortured, resulting in 4 deaths.”

In the majority of cases, the members have been arrested on charges of ‘endangering the social stability’, ‘subverting the government’ and undermining state security or law enforcement by use of a ‘xie jiao’ [evil cult] organization.

She said, “Many face long prison sentences, and a number of CAG members have received sentences of over ten years. Furthermore, testimonies from those imprisoned have painted a grim image of their treatment in Chinese prisons.”

Canada has been the largest granter of asylum to CAG members, followed by Germany and Italy. On the other hand, South Korea and France have rejected the most asylum requests and have issued the most departure orders.

She said, “We can conclude that those who are denied asylum status and deported back to China face a high risk of arrest, detention, and torture.

“It is for that reason that Human Rights Without Frontiers urges countries to grant political asylum to members of the Church of Almighty God who have fled China in search of a safe haven.”

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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