How do you call an explicitly announced CCP plan to “annihilate” a large group of Chinese citizens because of their faith?
by Massimo Introvigne
In an interview published in Bitter Winter last week, former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi stated that the CCP repression of Falun Gong, including organ harvesting, can be described as a “genocidal practice.” Indeed, with notions such as race and ethnicity increasingly contested and deconstructed, several scholars believe that systematically exterminating a human group because of its religion is a form of genocide.
This debate came to my mind when reading the “2020Annual Report on the Chinese Communist Government’s Persecution of The Church of Almighty God,” which the church has just published. The Church of Almighty God (CAG) is the largest Chinese Christian new religious movement. Chinese government’s sources claim it has four million members. Although some scholars doubt the number may be inflated, the situation in China makes collecting reliable statistics impossible. The CAG was established in China in 1991. Its main teaching is that Jesus Christ has returned and incarnated as a Chinese woman, whom followers worship as Almighty God. While Jesus brought salvation, Almighty God will eradicate the sinful nature of the redeemed believers, and usher in a millennial kingdom.
As the report reminds us, the CAG has been mercilessly persecuted from the CCP since its very beginning. Just between 2011 and the end of 2020, the report claims, 420,000 CAG members were arrested, and since its founding, 192 died as a result of the persecution. The report focuses on 2020, which has been an awfully bad year for religious persecution in China in general, and for the CAG in particular. The COVID-19 epidemic offered to the CCP the pretext for increasing block-by-block surveillance of all Chinese citizens, and also for destroying a record number of crosses and Christian churches, while the attention of the world was focused on the pandemic, and news about religious repression attracted less attention.
The CCP’s hostile attention on the CAG, however, did not diminish. On the contrary, 2020 saw the distribution of several CCP confidential documents, announcing a 3-year plan that should lead to the “utter annihilation” of the CAG in China, and even harass its communities abroad. The all-powerful Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the CCP directly took the lead in calling for the extermination of the religious movement, with a language clearly indicating genocidal intentions.
These were not idle words. The report states that “incomplete statistics” indicate that 42,807 CAG members were persecuted in different ways in China. 7,055 were arrested, 5,587 were subjected to torture or psychological pressures to compel them to renounce their faith, 1,098 received prison sentences (in 360 cases, of three years or more, while 57 decisions carried a jail term of more than seven years and 3 of more than ten years), and 21 died as a result of the persecution. 71-year-old Xiang Chen died in jail on December 6, 2020, while she was serving her sentence as a CAG member. Her body showed signs of malnutrition and torture. 77-year-old Yang Fengying committed suicide on March 10, 2020, after having been interrogated and tortured countless times by police who wanted to learn the whereabouts of her daughter, a CAG missionary.
The situation of CAG members in jail worsened because of April 2019 CCP directions asking prison personnel to increase the rate of successful “transformations,” i.e., deprogrammings of CAG members who would sign statements that they had renounced their faith. No effort is spared to achieve the quotas, as the prison guards’ careers depend on them. Some CAG devotees died because of the unbearable physical and psychological pressures. In some jails, violent prisoners detained for common crimes, nicknamed “escorts,” were incited to sexually abuse CAG members until they would sign the statements.
One woman reported that the “escorts” tortured her by “twisting or knocking on iron clamps they had applied to her nipples. They tortured her this way for four straight days, approximately 10 hours a day. Her nipples were left ravaged, with blood seeping through her underclothing. The escorts also sprayed disinfectant on her nipples, causing her stabbing pain. In the dead of winter, they tore her padded jacket off of her and poured a menthol-based mosquito repellent in her underwear, rubbed tiger balm on her genitals, and kicked her ruthlessly in the genitals and the anus.”
Extra-judicial detention in the transformation through education camps in Xinjiang, well-known for the Uyghurs, also involves CAG believers. What is more, the CCP is not happy to limit its persecution of CAG devotees to China. It pursues CAG refugees abroad, according to plans outlined in detail in confidential official documents. In China, the relatives, often old parents, of CAG members who sought asylum in democratic countries, are persecuted as a way of putting pressure on the refugees, and persuading them to return to China.
Everywhere abroad, CAG videos are scrutinized, and CAG events kept under watch, to identify who is a member of the church. Refugees who would return to China would be immediately arrested. The CCP also works through fellow travelers and sympathizers in several countries, particularly in South Korea, to harass CAG refugees and call on the authorities not to grant them asylum.
The report notes that the percentage of CAG asylum application granted slightly increased in 2020, but in South Korea and Japan, two countries that accept an exceedingly small number of refugees in general, that percentage is still zero. While better COI (Country of Origin Information documents used by the immigration authorities and courts of law) and scholarly studies of the CAG explain the improvement, Chinese embassies are increasingly active in trying to negatively influence asylum cases.
The report also salutes a better understanding of CAG’s persecution in governmental and other reports published in 2020, also mentioning the recent January 21 document by the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.
Against this mounting evidence of genocide, we still occasionally encounter the objection that, after all, the “only” sources claiming that the CAG is heavily persecuted in China are documents by the CAG itself, including the yearly reports, by scholars somewhat sympathetic to the church, and—some would add—by the U.S. government, which has its own political reasons to criticize China.
This argument may only persuade those who ignore sources written in Chinese. The richest trove of information about the persecution of the CAG is not found in CAG publications, Western governmental reports, academic literature, or Bitter Winter. It is found in CCP’s own sources, including the Party’s Anti-Xie-Jiao Website, which reports more than once a week on the campaigns against the CAG and on court cases where CAG members are sentenced, and the mammoth online data base China Judgments Online, managed by the Supreme People’s Court, where hundreds of court decisions are published every year, sentencing CAG members to heavy jail penalties for “criminal” activities such as attending a worship meeting or sharing their faith with relatives and co-workers. If some are unable to access and use Chinese sources, it is not our fault, but they should refrain from commenting on issues they obviously know little about.