China: 63 Christians Leave the Country, Seeking Asylum in the US, Are Arrested in Thailand

March 31, 2023

They could be returned to China, where they would likely serve time in prison. The Chinese Communist Party is working actively to destroy Christianity and replace it in the hearts, minds, and souls of the people of China.

For background on Orthodox Christianity in China, see here.

For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in China, see here.

“Thailand Arrests 63 Chinese Christians Seeking Asylum,” by Angela Lu Fulton, Christianity Today, March 30, 2023:

Thai immigration officials detained members of a Chinese house church Thursday that had been seeking resettlement in the United States since August. Human rights groups fear the 28 adults and 35 children could be repatriated to China, where they would likely face prison time.

Members of Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, known as the “Mayflower church,” left China in 2019 due to religious restrictions and tried unsuccessfully to gain asylum in South Korea before coming to Thailand and applying for refugee status at Bangkok’s UN refugee office.

Bob Fu, head of ChinaAid, said that the raid didn’t come as a surprise: Last week, the congregation noticed one member had been acting strangely. When confronted, he admitted to working with China’s state security and had been coerced into revealing the group’s location. Fu said church members last saw the man being escorted away by Chinese operatives, leaving behind his wife and daughter, and he hasn’t been seen since.

Pastor Pan Yongguang and the group went into hiding for a few days, then returned to their hotel. At about 11 a.m. on Thursday, about 20 Thai immigration police showed up and asked to see their passports and visas, which had expired in October.

Deanna Brown of Freedom Seekers International, an NGO that helps persecuted Christians, had just arrived that morning to help the Mayflower church members when the police arrived, some taking photos and videos. Around 2 p.m., they transported the entire group to an immigration center 30 minutes away.

Officials interrogated Pastor Pan Yongguang and other church members. As night fell, Brown said the officials debated bringing the group to Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Center, notorious for its squalid conditions, but ultimately decided to bring them to a nearby police station instead.

Concerned about the women and children sleeping on the floor, Brown said officials agreed to let them return to their hotel as long as they signed a form and agreed to be fingerprinted. However the church members feared that signing the forms could send them back to China, so they ended up spending the night at the station.

Immigration hearings began Friday. In past cases concerning Chinese dissidents, the Chinese government has repatriated asylum seekers from Thailand immediately after their trial. If Pan and his congregants are sent back to China, they will face retaliation, abuse, and prison time for speaking out about religious persecution, said Fu.

“In the past, the Chinese government engaged transnational repression activities by abducting Chinese dissidents from Thailand,” said Abraham Cooper, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, in a statement. “We urge the US government to use all feasible tools at its disposal to ensure Mayflower Church members’ safety.”

Fu noted that top US officials have been briefed on the Mayflower church’s situation and are deliberating what to do next, while lawmakers have been calling the Thai embassy telling them not to send the Christians back to China. ChinaAid and other groups have pushed the Biden administration to grant the 63 people immediate emergency asylum, as it has for fleeing Ukrainians and Afghans, as they face imminent danger from the long arm of China.

Since the church left China two years ago, it has drawn support from rights groups and American officials, including Rashad Hussain, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Freedom Seekers International and ChinaAid had already found six Texas churches that have agreed to support Mayflower church families for a full year after they arrive in the United States….