63 chinese detained in thailand seeking un protection
A self-exiled congregation of Chinese Christians who have petitioned the UN for protection from religious persecution may be deported from Thailand after police there detained them along with two Americans who were assisting them.
According to the pastor of the church and an American activist who has been assisting the congregation’s efforts to apply for asylum, Thai immigration police detained 63 members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church on Thursday and took them from their hotel in the coastal city of Pattaya to a police immigration bureau facility.
According to the pastor, Pan Yongguang, and one of the activists, Deana Brown, an immigration court on Friday fined 30 adult members of the church the equivalent of $44 each for exceeding their visa limits. Following that, police took the entire congregation—along with the two Americans—to a detention facility in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.
According to Mrs. Brown, the Americans weren’t accused of any wrongdoing. According to the pastor and the activist, it was unclear what Thai authorities intended to do with the Bangkok congregation.
We don’t believe the threat has subsided, Mr. Pan said, adding that churchgoers were still concerned about the prospect of being sent back to China. We anticipate the U.N. A refugee agency can assist us in escaping danger as quickly as possible.
The American State Department claimed to be aware of the detentions and to be “closely tracking” the affected population. According to a State Department spokesperson, “We coordinate closely with the Royal Thai Government to promote and protect the rights of all vulnerable groups” and ensure adherence to the rule against sending asylum seekers back to nations where they risk persecution.
What should government of Thailand do?
Requests for comment from Thailand’s foreign ministry were not immediately fulfilled that time but today Thailand’s government should ensure that 63 recently detained Christian Chinese asylum seekers are not returned to China, where they face persecution, torture and other grave harm, Human Rights Watch said today.
The church’s detentions represented the most recent setback for an organization whose rambling journey embodied the restriction of religious freedom in China under leader Xi Jinping. The journey began with an escape to the South Korean island of Jeju three years prior, which was motivated by what congregants described as escalating government persecution.
Even though Chinese Christians have been known to leave their country and seek refuge abroad on their own or in small groups, human rights activists claim Mr. Pan’s congregation is the first to have done so in great numbers.
Republican lawmakers in the United States, such as Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, were alerted to the detentions this week and urged the Biden administration to support the church.
According to Mr. Pan, the police raid happened after a churchgoer announced to the congregation earlier in March that he wanted to return to China and had spoken to Chinese security personnel. According to Mr. Pan, the church expelled that member shortly after due to worries for the security of its members. He asserts that he believes Chinese authorities may have used the expelled member’s information to plan the detentions.
Mr. Pan claimed that since the expulsion, the church has been unable to contact this former member.
Questions regarding the detentions were not immediately answered by China’s Foreign Ministry.
In the past, Thailand has returned Chinese nationals wanted by China, including Uyghurs, a predominantly Turkic Muslim minority that has endured discrimination based on race and religion in their ancestral homeland of Xinjiang on China’s western border. Additionally, Chinese dissidents who were U.N.-recognized refugees had previously been deported by Thai authorities. and were waiting to be relocated to Canada.
Church members claim that in China, they had endured years of escalating government harassment, including threats to close down an underground religious school they operated. Many of the congregation’s members left their homes in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen between late 2019 and early 2020 after the congregation decided to leave China.
They first traveled to Jeju, where Chinese nationals could enter without a visa. While they were applying for asylum, some of them worked on the island’s farms. The group decided to leave after being repeatedly rejected by South Korean courts, citing a slim chance of success and what they claimed was rising harassment from Chinese officials.
The church was brought to Thailand by Mr. Pan the previous year, where they submitted applications to the UN agency for refugees in September.
This week, Mrs. Brown and Stacy Nichols, a traveling nurse who works with Mrs. Brown’s organization, traveled to Thailand to meet the church. Mrs. Brown is the founder of a Texas-based nonprofit that aids people fleeing religious persecution. Following their meeting with the congregation on Thursday, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Nichols were detained by Thai immigration police, along with Mr. Pan’s church.
The organization led by Mrs. Brown, Freedom Seekers International, has been working to assist Mr. Pan’s church with its relocation to Tyler, Texas. Before their collective detention, she and Mrs. Nichols met the congregation on Thursday after arriving in Thailand.
To draw comparisons to the English pilgrims who made their way to what would eventually become the United States in 1620, American activists and politicians have referred to the congregation as the “Mayflower Church.”
Members of the church claimed they have also been seeking resettlement in the United States as a different choice and have informed American diplomats of that. Mr. McCaul was among the American politicians who had previously urged the State Department to take action to stop the Shenzhen congregation from being repatriated.
In a recent letter to two State Department representatives, Mr. McCaul stated that “the United States must intervene to help ensure the group’s safety” and protect them from harassment by China. He also demanded that the congregation’s eligibility for refugee protection in the U.S. be quickly determined.
In response to this week’s detentions, Mr. McCaul told The Wall Street Journal that “religious freedom, and its protection abroad, are core tenets of America’s constitutional tradition.”
After Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, brought up the Shenzhen church during a recent meeting with a Thai delegation that was in Washington, the detentions took place a few weeks later.
In a statement to the Journal on Thursday, Mr. Smith pleaded with the Thai government to thwart any efforts by China to sway the legal system. The author wrote, “These families of great faith cannot be deported to Communist China where it is certain that they will be tortured and persecuted.”
Thailand: Don’t turn back Chinese asylum seekers
According to the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement, the UNHCR should have unrestricted access to asylum seekers in order to evaluate their refugee status and make sure that nobody is sent to a place where their lives or freedom are in danger.
Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-administration ocha’s in Thailand has a long history of working with Chinese authorities to persecute, imprison, and forcefully repatriate individuals from exiled political, religious, and ethnic groups as well as human rights advocates and journalists who fled to Thailand to avoid persecution.
Thailand is required by customary international law to make sure that no one is forcibly transported to a location where they would be at a real risk of being persecuted, subjected to torture or other cruel treatment, or where their lives would be in danger.
In its recently passed Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance, Thailand has incorporated international human rights law, particularly the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The act forbids actions that would extradite or expulse a person to a country where there are good reasons to suspect they would face torture or be forcibly disappeared.