Source: Direct reports from Italy
Date: June 28, 2018
On June 27, the Justice Court of Perugia in Italy published two orders, no. 462/2018 and no. 459/2018, granting refugee status to two female members of The Church of Almighty God, a Chinese Christian new religious movement, and annulling decisions by local Refugee Commissions that had denied the asylum.
Order 462 is particularly important, because it declares “believable, complete, coherent, and detailed” the account where the asylum seeker reported to have been tortured through the “tiger bench.” The system is widely used in China. Prisoners are cuffed to a metal bench in a way designed to keep their legs bent upwards for a long period of time. If they struggle, the cuffs tighten.
Order 462 also discusses three grounds on which the local Commission denied the asylum. First, the Commission was not persuaded that members of The Church of Almighty God face arrests and detention in China for the mere fact of belonging to that Church. The Court notes that this is indeed the case, as “Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code punishes with a jail term of three to seven years” those active in a xie jiao (that the Italian Court translates as “superstitious cults,” although the translation”heterodox teachings” would be more accurate). The Court notes accurately that The Church of Almighty God has been constantly included in the “periodically updated list” of xie jiao since 1995.
Second, the Commission found unbelievable the refugee’s account that she had been converted by her mother, based on media accounts describing The Church of Almighty God as anti-family. The Court relies on studies by Bitter Winter editor Massimo Introvigne, showing that in fact conversions to The Church of Almighty God through members of the family are very common.
Third, the Commission stated that, if she was really persecuted, the asylum seeker should not have been granted a passport. The Court relied on expert opinions to object that, in fact, “Chinese systems of control are not infallible and corruption is widespread.”
Based, again, on recent studies by scholars, and quoting Massimo Introvigne, the order describes accurately the situation of The Church of Almighty God in China: “The persecution against the members of The Church of Almighty God is well documented. There have been thousands of arrests, and dozens of cases of torture and death in suspicious circumstances. We understand that destroying the xie jiao is a priority for the Chinese authorities, and that monetary rewards are offered to those who denounce their members and allow the police to arrest them.”
Order 459, issued by the same judge, reiterates the same arguments, although in this case torture was not involved. In fact, protection has been granted even if the asylum seeker had not been personally persecuted, although her father had been arrested and beaten for being a member of The Church of Almighty God, and the same had happened to a friend, who recommended that she should leave China as soon as possible, what she did.