Persecuted Chinese Christians Receive Asylum in Central Europe
The Czech Republic, the smaller of the economically prosperous countries of Central Europe, has accepted eight applicants for asylum from China—Christians who arrived in the Czech Republic from February to May 2016.
Although the Czech Republic and China have been pursuing very close political and business relations since 2014, the Ministry of the Interior officially confirmed the acceptance of eight Christians, citing the Chinese regime’s violation of human rights.
This is the second significant blow to Czech-China relations after the Chinese counselor to Czech President Milos Zeman recently made controversial headlines. Jie Jieming, the head of Chinese energy conglomerate CEFC who became the official advisor to the president in 2015, is now facing charges for economic crimes in China.
Chinese state media has dismissed the fugitive believers from China as “illegal migrants who only impersonated Christians.” Associate Professor Zdeněk Vojtíšek, from Charles University, said that the People’s Republic of China, as an atheist state, is going after religions and religious movements, including Christianity. “It is generally known that devotees of various churches are subjected to fierce persecution, including imprisonment, torture, and even killing.”
The case attracts attention precisely because the Czech Republic, through the admission of Christians from China in the asylum procedure, has openly declared that the Chinese regime is violating human rights and persecuting believers, which is a well-known fact and an open secret under the political and economic pressures of the Chinese regime.
“The Communist Party perceives Christianity as a competitive ideology and sees threats to its power monopoly,” sinologist Olga Lomova of Charles University told Aktualne.cz regarding the situation in China.
The unusually long period of time the authorities took to examine the applicants, along with the number of rejected asylum applications, indicates that the Czech Republic’s decision to grant asylum was not easy. The decision took two years. The Czech authorities received a total of 90 applications, of which only eight were heard.
Due to growing cooperation between the Czech Republic and China, tourism between the two countries has started to rise.
“If we accept this group, we will point out that China is not respecting human rights and religious freedom. This would have allowed the Czech-Chinese relations to cool a lot, and that’s what our government fears, “Kateřina Procházková, Czech Radio and Czech Broadcaster, commented at the beginning of the process.
The 82 unsuccessful applicants appealed against the rejection by administrative action. They are currently still in the Czech Republic and lawyers protect their anonymity. Revealing their identity would jeopardize their relatives in China who, according to the lawyers, were exposed to the regime’s persecution.
As a reason for rejecting most of the applications, the Czech authorities stated that the applicants had not sufficiently demonstrated that they were genuinely persecuted in China. Furthermore, some of them were considered by authorities to be merely economic migrants seeking better lives. The last reason was the alleged suspicion by the Czech secret service, BIS, that some of the applicants may be hacking agents of Chinese intelligence.
“We have been watched, as the Chinese government is against religion, so our activities have been reported to the authorities. I grew up in such an environment. They arrested me twice. I was left to leave,” one of the unsuccessful asylum seekers told Czech Television. “In China, oppression against believers is steadily rising, and recently they have even blown up one church, even though it was among the legal ones [authorized by the regime].
“So if I returned to China, they would definitely arrest, torture, and condemn me. I would not survive,” she added.
Among the accepted refugees are members of the Christian Church, The Lightning of the East, which is mentioned in the book “The Slaughter” by investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann. According to Gutmann, the detainees of the Lightning of the East are one of the groups subjected to the forced removal of their organs at Chinese military hospitals, known as forced organ harvesting. Similar accusations have been repeatedly denied by the Chinese regime.
The Czech Republic is a post-Communist country that overthrew the Communist regime in 1989 with peaceful protests against police shields and batons, gaining the moniker “Velvet Revolution” or “Gentle Revolution” in Slovak.
Now a member of the European Union, the Czech Republic is paradoxically combining a strong historical struggle for human rights with growing economic and political cooperation with China.
Translated by Miroslav Schlehr