The Court of Rome granted asylum to a member of the Church of Almighty God, acknowledging that the Church is persecuted in China.
Amalia Astori and Laura Bondi
Mrs. L.Z., a forty-six years old Chinese citizen, converted in 2011 and became a member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), which helped her during a difficult period of her life.
Since the CAG is persecuted in China, Mrs. L.Z. met secretly once a week with her fellow believers, in different homes, to worship and read the movement’s sacred scriptures. In 2014, during one of these meetings, the police broke in. Mrs. L.Z. managed to escape from the back door and hide into a cornfield, located behind the house where the meeting was taking place.
On October 17, 2015, following a chat wiretapping, Mrs. L.Z. was arrested and taken to the local police office, where she was interrogated, in order to reveal the names of the other CAG members in the area. During the interrogation, she suffered from beatings and mistreatment. She was released, thanks to her husband, who was able to corrupt the police through the help of some acquaintances.
Later, she was summoned by the Head of her District, and forced to attend a re-education class, where she was forced to abjure her faith and proclaim her adherence to the ideology of the ruling party. In addition, the sister was subjected to strict surveillance.
In fact, the CAG is among the religious groups which the Chinese Government has labeled as “heterodox teachings” (xie jiao), and its members are routinely subjected to persecution, arrests and torture. Furthermore, the CAG is persecuted because it is considered an enemy of the CCP. Of course, there is no religious liberty in China.
Because of this repressive regime, Mrs. L.Z. decided to leave her country and arrived in Italy, where she submitted a request for asylum. The Territorial Commission of Rome (“Commissione Territoriale di Roma,” the local administrative authority responsible for examining applications for international protection), rejected the request since it regarded her story as not believable.
Mrs. L.Z., with the help of attorneys specialized in immigration law, filed an appeal with the Court of Rome, to see her rights recognized. The case lasted a year and a half. The applicant’s defense documented the persecutions suffered by CAG members in China, submitting to the Judge several authoritative international reports, thus demonstrating that Mrs. L.Z.′s story was indeed true. Furthermore, Mrs. L.Z submitted to the Judge an official declaration proving that she was a member of the CAG, issued by the President of the Rome branch of the Church. The scholarly articles written by Professors Introvigne and Zoccatelli, in which the authors illustrated the theology and situation of the CAG, in a way consistent with the statements of Mrs. L.Z., were very important. Indeed, the scholarly articles and official documents prepared by Professor Introvigne’s pool of experts, were decisive for the success of the trial, as well as the submission of legal precedents. The judgments produced by Mrs. L.Z.’s attorneys proved that in several Italian cities judges had already granted the asylum to CAG refugees.
The Court considered genuine both the faith and persecution suffered by Mrs. L.Z., as well as her fear of suffering “inhumane and degrading treatment” should she return back to her country of origin. China was declared a country were religion-based refugees would suffer “serious harm” should they return home. As a result, the Judge granted international protection to Ms L.Z., confirming other decisions by courts all over Italy, and in Rome itself, which have recognized the reality of the religious persecution of CAG members in China.
Amalia Astori and Laura Bondi are lawyers of the Rome Bar specialized in immigration law.