During the 37th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the human rights situation of religious refugees was discussed, arousing international attention. In 2018, from February 26 to March 23, Geneva, Mr. Thierry Valle, president of the Coordination of the Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience (CAP LC), issued a statement under the title of “Religious Refugees from China Denied Asylum in Europe.” The statement mainly introduced the human right situation of Chinese refugees in Europe and it has piqued the interest of the United Nations Security Council.
On March 1, 2018, CAP LC organized a side event on “The Denial of Religious Freedom in China and the Case of The Church of Almighty God.” Professor Massimo Introvigne, the managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) and Ms. Rosita Šorytė, the president of the International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees (ORLIR), attended this event, during which there was a heated debate between the Western scholars and the CCP representatives from the Chinese delegation.
The theme of this event was the CCP’s repression and persecution of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) and the asylum applications of CAG members in foreign countries. During the event, there was strong opposition from the Chinese delegation while the experts made some counter-arguments by presenting evidence and the results of their research.
Professor Massiomo Introvigne and Ms. Rosita Šorytė, who made strong remarks on religious persecution in China and the human rights situation of religious refugees at the UNHRC, visited South Korea.
On March 29, 2018, the two scholars claimed that “the human rights of religious refugees should be protected” in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA) during their stay in South Korea before the Australia Conference.
Professor Massimo Introvigne, the managing director of CESNUR, has studied new religious movements for more than 30 years and is recognized as a world-renowned expert and authority on religion and human rights. The main focus of his career as a scholar is new religious movements all over the world, including in Asia.
He has access to CAG-related documents published by the Chinese government and the media since 2016 and he was invited to two anti-xie-jiao academic conferences in 2017, one in Henan in June and the other in Hong Kong in September. He claimed that the documents he has researched show their indictments were not based on facts and no criminal acts were conducted by CAG. Since CAG members are persecuted due to their religious beliefs, they are entitled to religious freedom as well as the status of refugees in whatever country they are in, including France.
During the interview, Ms. Rosita Šorytė, the president of ORLIR, which helps refugees seek asylums overseas, also pointed out that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is binding for many countries and that the freedom of belief is also a human right.
She said everyone has the basic rights of survival, such as the right to work and to have freedom of religion. If such rights are not respected but abused in a particular country, the responsibilities and duties are clearly not shouldered by that country and the refugees are bound to emerge in that country where human rights and religious freedom are not respected.
Although religious freedom is prescribed in Chinese law, their legal system and provisions are not within the scope of that law, she added. In other words, Chinese citizens are not allowed to believe in religions they want to believe and are sometimes not accepted at all.
She noted that there is evidence of religious persecution against refugees and that their human rights should be respected. If a person is deprived of their religious freedom, such a fact proves that they are religious refugees according to international conventions.
Professor Massimo Introvigne claimed that CAG members do not have to prove that they have been personally persecuted because just being a member of CAG in China means being exposed to the risk of imprisonment. Under Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code, a person who participates in “xie jiao” ( Chinese: “邪教,” an evil religious organization) is to be sentenced to three to seven years in prison or more. Since unorthodox doctrines are identified as “xie jiao,” which is hard to categorize, CAG has been in the list.
Given the court decisions by the Chinese government, there can be a wide range of interpretations. Just by keeping a book related to “xie jiao,” a person can be arrested. This proves that being a CAG member risks imprisonment without any reasonable grounds.
It is very justifiable for the European or the Korean government to ask individuals to prove whether they are CAG members or not. If they are, then they would be arrested upon returning to China. That’s why this has nothing to do with any legal interpretation, which is exactly the problem of the Chinese legal system.
He insisted that attorneys in the nations concerned proactively apply international conventions, while international organizations, such as the United Nations and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), should also be involved in these cases. The courts of the nations must grant CAG members refugee status.
In addition, Ms. Rosita Šorytė, the president of ORLIR urged UNHCR and UNHRC play a substantial role in this matter, while non-government organizations should appeal for human rights protection. At the same time, UNHCR must protect the refugees and the human rights of member states.
The visit of Professor Massimo Introvigne and Ms. Rosita Šorytė, and their interview with RFA serve as a great opportunity to remind us of the need to protect the human rights of religious refugees.
No one is entitled to infringe upon the basic human rights endowed by God. Special care is needed to guarantee our valuable rights. It is our responsibility to remember those suffering from disaster, war, and religious persecution at this very moment. Governments and citizens should take this as an opportunity to give them a hand, thereby addressing this humanitarian crisis and disregard for human rights.
While human rights violations are increasing all over the world, our government should examine the current status of human rights and take the lead in protecting the rights of refugees. Also, it is time for citizens to help their neighbors who seek asylum and keep in mind the spirit and meaning of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights by finding various ways to protect human rights.
Chung-ung Choi is the president of the United Nations Human Rights Refugee Association (Juridical Foundation).