The Church of Almighty God’s Refugees in Japan: A Statement at the United Nations

No refugee of The Church of Almighty God has been granted asylum in Japan, a country with a very restrictive policy on refugees in general. The situation has been discussed at the United Nations

Massimo Introvigne

As of January 2019, 270 members of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), a Chinese Christian new religious movement, have escaped China and applied for asylum in Japan. None of the requests has been granted.

That the CAG is ruthlessly and cruelly persecuted in China is an established fact. The CAG claims that more than 300,000 of its members have been arrested, and scholars regard the figure as credible. There are hundreds of published Chinese court decisions showing that CAG members have been sentenced to heavy jail penalties for the only circumstance of being active in a banned religious organization. NGOs have also reported instances of torture, extra-judicial killings, and organ harvesting.

Japan is well-known for its restrictive policy on refugees in general. According to the Japan Times, in 2017 Japan received 19,628 asylum requests, and only 20 were accepted. The situation increasingly concerns international observers.

At the 40th session of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (25 February–22 March 2019), the French NGO CAP-LC (Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience), which is among the NGOs accredited at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), has submitted a written statement on the situation of the CAG refugees in Japan, published on the United Nations’ official Web site. An oral discussion will follow.

The statement mentions the fake news spread against the CAG, including by some Japanese media, and analyzes various reasons why in Japan CAG refugees are not granted asylum.

“Asylum  is  often  denied  in  Japan, the stamens notes,  because  the  individual  CAG  refugee  cannot  prove  to  have been  personally  persecuted.  However,  under  the  Geneva  Convention  it  is  not  necessary  that the  asylum  seeker  proves  that  s he  or  he  has  been actually persecuted.  A  credible ‘fear of persecution’  is  enough.  That  being  a  member  of  the  CAG  in  China  means  being  in  fear  of being  persecuted  should  be  obvious.”

“Some,  however,  object, continues the statement,  that,  if  they  were  really persecuted,  the  refugees  should  have  been  arrested.” CAP-LC comments that  “the  CAG  in  China  is  a  huge,  million-members  clandestine  religious  movement.  Chinese  authorities  admit  they  have  identified only  a  minority  of  CAG  members,  and  in  fact  rewards  to  those  denouncing  CAG  members to  the  police  (some  of these  reward  offers  are  advertised  on  the  Internet,  and  concern any CAG  member,  not  the  leaders  only).  CAG  devotees  may  escape  arrest  for  years  by  moving from  province  to  province,  and  are  protected  by  CAG  underground  networks  and  by  family networks,  which are  important  in  China.  Some  tend  not  to  believe  the  references  to  family networks,  as  they  may  have  read  on  the  Internet  that  the  CAG  is  ‘against  the  family’  and that  members  are  required  to  break  ties  with  their  families.  However,  scholars  have  proved that  this  is  part  of  the  fake  news  campaigns.  Actually,  the  CAG’s  holy  scriptures  have  a positive  view  of  the  family,  and  most Chinese  members  have  been  converted  by  relatives.”

A further comment in the statement is that “most  CAG  refugees  are  middle  class  or  students,  with  a  lot  to lose by  leaving  China.  They do  not  take  the  decision  to  flee  abroad  lightly,  and  only  when  they  have  credible  warnings that  they  may  be  arrested  soon.  Since  they  have  all  see  members  of  their  local  CAG communities  (who  may  often  be  their  relatives)  arrested  and  sentenced  to heavy  jail  terms, their  fear  of  arrest and  persecution  is  very  much  credible.”

Another frequent objection is dealt with in the statement. “Some  object  that,  if  the  refugee  was  persecuted,  a  passport  should  not  have  been  issued. The  objection  obviously  does  not  apply  to  those  CAG  members  who  had  not  been identified as  such  by  the  authorities.  Those  who  have  may  exploit  loopholes  in  the  Chinese electronic  police  system  called  Policenet  (they  are  wider than some  Internet  reports prepared  by  NGOs  claim),  or  rely  on  the  widespread  corruption  in  China,  where  buying  a pass port  is  always  possible.  According  to  the  U.S.  State  Department, millions of  cases  of police  and  administrative  corruption  are  reported  every  year  in  China.  A  significant  number concerns  false  or  irregular  passports.  If  the  officer  is  corrupted,  any  problems  connected with  biometric  data  or  fingerprints  may  also  be  overcome.  A  study  by  PierLuigi  Zoccatelli, an  Italian  academic  specialized  both  in  new  religious  movements  and  Chinese  immigration, has  clarified  that  controls  in  Chinese  airports  are  ineffective ,  notwithstanding  all  the  hypes on  the  Chinese  prodigies of  facial  recognition,  and  may  be  easily  eluded.”

“The  conclusion, the statement concludes,  is  inescapable,  that  refugees  of  the  CAG  fleeing  China  and  seeking  asylum in  Japan  should  be  granted  it.  We  acknowledge  and  respect  the problems  of  Japan  in dealing  with  a  high  number  of  asylum  requests.  However,  the  members  of  the  CAG  seeking asylum  in  Japan,  whose  number  (270)  should  not create  a  national  problem,  runs  the  serious risk  of  being  arrested  and  sentenced  to  heavy  jail  penal ties,  or  worse,  should  they  be  sent back  to  China.  We  urge  Japan,  a  country  widely  respected  for  its  commitment  to  human rights,  to  lend  its  helping  hand  to  the  refugees  of  The  Church  of  Almighty  God.”