More than 60 members of a Chinese Christian congregation in self-imposed exile arrested in Thailand for overstaying their visas paid penalties on Friday, Mar. 31. But, their legal status remains unknown, and they continue to fear being deported against their will to a nation where they may face persecution.
Christian Church Members Detention
A report from the Atchison Globe stated that the members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, commonly known as the Mayflower Church, fled to Thailand in 2022 and sought refuge in Thailand. The present standing of their request could not be determined from the available information. They left China in 2019, claiming that government security officials were persecuting them, and they initially settled on the island of Jeju, which is located in South Korea. They departed South Korea for Thailand after it became evident from conversations with local and U.S. officials that the prospects for finding sanctuary there could have been better.
As mentioned, Deana Brown said that the chief executive officer of Freedom Seekers International, a Texas-based organization whose mission is to rescue "the most severely persecuted Christians in hostile and restrictive countries," when the group inquired about renewing their visas, they were informed that there was a new requirement that all Chinese citizens renewing a visa in Thailand must first report to the Chinese Embassy. The visas have expired for months.
Members of the church reportedly told the media upon their arrival in Thailand in 2022 that they had been harassed, stalked, and received threatening calls and messages even while in South Korea. They also claimed that relatives in China had been called in for questioning and intimidation. At that time, the Chinese Foreign Ministry declared that the issue was "not a diplomatic topic." They declined to speak further on the situation.
The Star reported that according to Colonel Tawee Kutthalaeng, the chief of the Nong Prue police station in the Pattaya area, 32 of the group's members, regarded as adults, have been charged with overstaying their visas. He indicated that two American citizens who were a part of the group and were temporarily detained did not end up being arrested.
Deana Brown, one of the two American supporters who accompanied them, claimed that the church members had anticipated being released after paying the fine to return to the location in the region where they had been residing. Brown stated that efforts had been made to relocate the church members to Tyler, Texas, where her organization is headquartered.
China's Religion Crackdown
As per the UCA News, Chinese authorities have accelerated their crackdown on both permitted and illegal religious groups, resulting in significant human rights breaches, according to reports from two organizations that monitor freedom and religious liberty in the communist nation. On Mar. 31, 2022, the bipartisan and bicameral US Congressional-Executive Committee on China released its annual report outlining "the horrors the Chinese government and Communist Party inflict against the Chinese people."
Moreover, in China, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, the situation of all religious groups, both authorized and unauthorized, deteriorated. The Chinese government has increased surveillance on all forms of dissent, including "illegal" religions, using the Covid-19 outbreak as justification. The five approved religions, which include Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism, have been persecuted, adding that the 2018 Vatican-China agreement on bishop appointments did not benefit Catholics.
The paper also addressed the destruction of Muslim Turkic identity in Xinjiang, Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, Mongolian essence in Inner Mongolia, and the destruction of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong. The persecution of Hui Muslims, racially separate from the Han Chinese majority, increased significantly.
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