Returned to China, Church of Almighty God Members Face Prison

As coronavirus spreads around the world, many Chinese experience discrimination abroad just because of their ethnicity. It is especially hard on religious refugees.

People disembarking from an airplane

The epidemic, which originated in Hubei Province’s capital Wuhan, has sparked a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment in South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, and many countries in Europe, where signs “No Chinese allowed” started appearing in public places.

The situation of religious refugees in these countries is even direr: their chances of remaining there, safe from persecutions back home, are becoming slimmer amid the rising wave of anti-Chinese feelings. Those who are forced to return to China immediately face the government’s oppression, many are sent to prison.

A young man, a member of The Church of the Almighty God (CAG), who was recently forced to return from abroad to his home in southeastern China, received a call in February from a local government official. He repeatedly asked him about his time overseas and warned that “he will have a talk with him in person when the epidemic is over.” There were calls from other government officials, who also demanded to know what he did abroad and if he practiced his religion there. They asked for photos and other proof that he worked outside China. The authorities have also tried to elicit information about his faith and life abroad from his family members under the pretext of “renewing his expired passport.”

Many CAG devotees who managed to flee overseas to escape continuous oppression, evade arrest and torture, face even harsher punishment when they return. As Bitter Winter has reported, the CCP has been collecting information on CAG members who have fled China and uses agents and propaganda to harass them.

In 2018, a CAG member was arrested not long after returning to China from exile overseas. Her relatives with government contacts tried to bail her out with enormous sums of money, but officials said that she was considered as a “key figure” and listed as an “international criminal” because she had spent time abroad. No one could help her no matter how much money they gave to bureaucrats or how close they were with government officials.

“She is a regular member of the CAG, not a ‘key figure’ at all. She was arrested only because she had been to another country,” a CAG member who is familiar with the matter told Bitter Winter. The family has not received any more information about her since the time of the arrest.

Another CAG member, in her 60s, spent two years abroad and returned home in northwestern China in February 2017. The next month, her relative told her that she was wanted by the local Public Security Bureau: she could be arrested at any moment. Because the woman had to go through formalities for her trip abroad, the authorities had all her personal information.

Facing arrest, the woman was forced to go on the run again. In December 2017, she learned from a relative that her mother, in her 80s, was living in fear after she had left, worrying that her daughter might be arrested. “What’s wrong with the world?” the elderly woman lamented to the relative. “Where is justice? Is it against the law to believe in God?”

In early 2018, after the government launched a new operation to arrest CAG members, the woman was forced to flee again. Her whereabouts remain unknown.

Source:Bitter Winter/by Zhou Xiaolu