Denial of Religious Freedom in China Threatens Idea of Freedom Itself

As a human rights activist, I consider the denial of religious freedom, including the persecution of members of the Church of Almighty God, and the denial of other fundamental human rights in China as paramount problems in the world today. These problems have vast implications not only for individual freedom, but for the idea of freedom itself.

First, these problems affect so many millions of our brothers and sisters. China has a population of over 1.4 billion people. That’s more than the total population of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Western Europe combined.

The mind-boggling numbers translate into huge numbers of victims. According to Human Rights Without Frontiers, which keeps track of prisoners of conscience around the world, China has incarcerated the highest number of believers of all denominations in the world. Experts say the number of people being detained for their religious beliefs and observances is the highest since the Cultural Revolution.

This includes large numbers of Evangelical Protestants and Pentecostal Protestants belonging to underground house churches. Well over half of China’s Protestants belong to such independent house churches. The pressure on these organizations has intensified dramatically. They are being pushed hard to register and knuckle under to government authority, and those that do not are often labeled as “evil cults.” They are facing intensified scrutiny by security forces and seizure of their property, as well as physical attacks and arrests of pastors.

At the same time, the number of Protestant Christians in China is growing at an amazing pace and is considered to amount to a religious awakening. The number of Chinese Protestants has increased by about 10 percent every year since 1979, and given this rate of growth, China will have the largest population of Christians in the world within 12 years.

China’s millions of Protestants do not view themselves or behave as political groups or as a political opposition. But any religious community, in an authoritarian or totalitarian state that demands absolute loyalty, is a threat to the authority of the state. In recent years, the Chinese state has grown more controlling and more intrusive.

Authorities are invoking particular elements of the Chinese social and philosophical tradition to justify their authoritarianism and ethnic nationalism. Religion is a threat to this militantly atheist regime; the authorities even come down on citizens trying to celebrate the Persian festival of Nowruz.

But the pressing problem is what will happen when growing Protestant Christianity collides with a policy of growing state control over individual rights and freedoms, a policy that even extends to establishing loyalty records for each citizen based on monitoring their private reading and communication habits. The Chinese censors are so paternalistic, they have even banned the video game “The Sims” because it depicts same-sex relationships.

China is home to well over 10 million Catholics. A new and highly dubious agreement with the Vatican will bring them further under government control.

Local authorities in China forbid fasting on Ramadan and burn the Koran. According to the Christian nonprofit ChinaAid, the authorities want to eliminate Islam from Xinjiang altogether.

Here again, the regime is willfully and needlessly putting itself on a collision course with Muslims and feeding the Islamic extremism it claims to be resisting. The Uyghur people are the indigenous population of the Xinjiang region, which has only been under Chinese control since the 18th century.

Now the Uyghurs amount to less than half the population. They are subjected to discriminatory profiling using intrusive technology, as well as travel restrictions. But what is most disturbing is that Uyghur Muslims are being forced into so-called “reeducation camps.” According to some estimates, about a million people have been detained in these camps and subjected to torture, including being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.

And of course, we must not neglect to mention the violent oppression faced by practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline since 1999. A special bureau of the government has been set up with the explicit aim of eradicating them. Indeed, many disappear after being arrested and forced into prisons or labor camps.

China violates religious freedom and other human rights but claims to uphold human rights with policies that have raised the standard of living in the country. Everyone understands that Chinese culture places a great emphasis on collective responsibilities and is not as individualistic as societies in the Western world. But that is no excuse for violating individual rights, and individual rights are not inconsistent with group loyalty.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Chinese regime does not accept the concept of human rights at all. The regime makes no commitment to upholding the natural rights of individuals, rights that are prior to the state and that transcend, and constrain, the laws made by governments and legislatures.

The idea of human rights is founded on the principle of natural rights. But official Chinese human rights principles state that human rights are rights given by society to the individual. So if “society,” which means the state, can give rights, then those rights can be taken away. Human rights are thus no different than other laws.

The victims of China’s oppressive policies know this is not true. They understand that human rights exist and are sacrosanct, because they have lost those rights. And as people who understand human rights, they not only need our protection, they need to be welcomed into our pluralistic and free societies, at least until China stops violating international human rights norm and starts truly assisting in the project of building a world of free states, at peace with one another, where all can think and worship as they wish.

This article was originally given as a speech at a briefing in the European Parliament on June 27, 2018, about religious persecution in China, presented by the NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers.

Aaron Rhodes is the president of FOREF Europe (Forum for Religious Freedom Europe), an international human rights activist, university lecturer, and essayist based in Hamburg, Germany.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Posted in Aaron Rhodes, China, Christians, European Union, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, HRWF, Limitations of Religious Freedom, Peking, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Intolerance, religious persecution | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Like a Lamb to the Slaughter: Will the United States Send This Woman to Her Death?

An Open Letter to President Trump

Ms Demei Zou facing certain death-penalty in China if USA extradites her

Dear President Trump

We are NGOs, some of them with ECOSOC consultative status, active in the defense of human rights and religious liberty, with a special experience and concerns for China, and write to ask for your urgent intervention in a question, literally, of life and death.

It regards an asylum seeker of a Chinese Christian new religious movement, The Church of Almighty God, who is detained in Detroit, Michigan, and threatened with immediate deportation back to China, where she will be arrested and will be at serious risk of being executed.

The Church of Almighty God is a group listed as xie jiao (“heterodox teaching,” often wrongly translated as “evil cult”) and banned in China. Being active in it is a crime under Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code, punished with a jail penalty from threeto seven years “or more,” but being a leader of it exposes to much harsher punishment.The Chinese government has spread for several years fake news about The Church of Almighty God, accusing it of crimes it has never committed.

Ms. Demei Zou was born on August 14, 1976. She was the leader of The Church of Almighty God in four provinces of China. Because of the severe persecution, somebody in the position of Ms. Zou normally destroys all identification documents and operates under aliases. Her role, however, became known to the police. Illegally, her Churchobtained a copy of her “Registration as Fugitive,” a document that reputable scholarsbelieve to be genuine. It accuses Ms. Zou to be indeed the leader of The Church of Almighty God in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Chongqing, and Sichuan. It alsoaccuses Ms. Zou of being involved in “stealing and transporting Chinese military secretsabroad,” an absurd accusation for those who know her Church, but one involving thedeath penalty.

Ms. Zou fled from China to South Korea by using the passport of another person with her photograph pasted on it. From South Korea, she moved to America and arrived at Detroit, Michigan on January 24, 2017. There, her passport was identified as false, and she was arrested. She had her initial master calendar hearing on April 11, 2017, and another one on April 24, 2017. The Court heard testimonies from Ms. Zou and three additional witnesses – two are members of the Church who have been granted asylum in the US on the grounds of religious persecution – at her individual merits hearings on June 13, July 18, and August 29, 2017. She received her notice of losing the case in December of 2017. She took her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), butagain, BIA upheld the Immigration Judge’s adverse decision. She appealed on June 15,2018. But, according to the account she provided to her co-religionists, immigration officers advised her that she would be deported to China and in fact made attempts to put her on a plane to Beijing last week, attempts she physically resisted.

Ms. Zou does not speak English. Although the Immigration Court in Detroit also cited the fake news about The Church of Almighty God it found on the Internet (although they have disappeared even from Wikipedia, and foreign decisions in parallel refugee cases expose them as mere Chinese propaganda), the main problems were Ms. Zou’sdifficulties in proving her identity, her identity documents having been destroyed, and in telling their story in a way understandable to the authorities, although her co-religionists testified of knowing her and about her role in the Church. We understand that American courts claim they cannot be sure the woman in jail in Detroit is really Ms. Zou, since she has no identity documents. But several co-religionists who escaped to the United States are prepared to swear that she is indeed Ms. Zou.

We trust that the appeal will clarify the misunderstandings, vast documentation about The Church of Almighty God and its persecution based on serious scholarly studies will be introduced, and well-known scholars familiar with the issue will be allowed to testify. In the meantime, deportation of Ms. Zou to China should be stopped. There are documented cases of members of The Church of Almighty God who returned to Chinafrom foreign countries and were arrested and even tortured, or “disappeared” there. For Ms. Zou, who has already been accused of involvement in espionage and identified as a key leader of the Church, the risk of the death penalty is very high.

It is inconceivable that the United States, a country whose commitment to human rights and religious liberty is well-known and has been solemnly reiterated under your Presidency, would render Ms. Zou to the persecutors of her Church and to the executioner, and immediate action is needed to prevent such a tragic occurrence.

July 4, 2018
Yours faithfully,

  • CAP-LC Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la libertéde conscience
  • CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions
  • EIFRF European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom
  • FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief
  • FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe
  • HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers
  • LIREC – Center for Studies on Freedom of Belief, Religion and Conscience
  • ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Freedom of Refugees
  • Soteria International
Posted in CESNUR, China, Christians, Countries, EU Special Envoy on FoRB, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, HRWF, Peking, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Intolerance, religious persecution, Torture, US Congress, USA | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Human Rights Organizations say: Decision shows failure of Islam Law

AUSTRIA: Government shuts seven mosques, prepares to expel 40 Turkey-funded imams

Bildergebnis für kurz vs erdogan

Vienna/Austria, 11.06.2018 (HRWF/FOREF Europe) – On Friday, June 8, the government of Austria ordered the closing of seven mosques and the termination of the residence permits of 40 Turkish imams. “Parallel societies, political Islam or radical tendencies have no place in our country,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the conservative people’s party (ÖVP) explained at a news conference announcing the move last Friday. Human Rights Without Frontiers and the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe, both of which have been sharply critical of political Islam as a totalitarian political movement, said that subjecting Islamic communities to special regulations contradicts human rights and Rule of Law principles, and is an obstacle to the development of moderate and peaceful Islamic communities in Europe that uphold a separation of church and state.

The measure coincides with the run-up to the Turkish presidential election on June 24. Turks living in Austria and in other countries already have begun casting absentee ballots. Last May, 10.000 expat Turks travelled to Sarajevo to attend an election campaign event in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital Sarajevo in support of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands had prohibited election campaigns of Turkish politicians in their countries. The event was hosted by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), an organization that is considered the foreign branch of Erdoğan’s party AKP. Around half of the supporters came from Germany and about 2.000 from Austria. In his Sarajevo talk, the Turkish president criticized the European countries that banned his campaigns as anti-democratic and asked his supporters to “demonstrate the strength of European Turks to the whole world”, the Austrian newspaper Die Presse reported.

Against this backdrop, the Austrian government’s plan to expel imams supported by Turkey and to crack down on mosques run by controversial organizations is widely understood as a reaction against the promotion of political Islam in Austria. Government officials, however, have denied any connection of their measure to the upcoming Turkish presidential election. The decision has been justified by claiming that two provisions of the amended “Islam Law” (Islamgesetz) of 2015 have been breached:

Continue reading

Posted in Austria, Islam, Islamism, Muslims, Religious Freedom, Turkey | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

PRESSEMITTEILUNG: FOREF & HRWF fordern Religionsfreiheit in Russland

Anlässlich Putin Besuch – Appell an Politiker:  “Österreich kann nicht einfach zur Tagesordnung übergehen”


(Wien, 4. Juni 2018) Wenn der russische Präsident Vladimir Putin sich am Dienstag mit Bundespräsident Alexander Van der Bellen und Bundeskanzler Sebastian Kurz trifft, werden sie auch ihre Besorgnis über die Talfahrt der Menschenrechte in Russland ansprechen und Österreichs Einfluss für eine Besserung der Lage geltend machen?

Zwei internationale Menschenrechtsorganisationen mit Schwerpunkt Religionsfreiheit appellieren an Bundespräsident und Bundeskanzler diese Gelegenheit unbedingt für die gute Sache zu nützen. Das Forum für Religionsfreiheit -Europa(FOREF, Sitz in Wien) und Human Rights Without Frontiers(Sitz in Brüssel) verfolgen seit Jahren aufmerksam die Entwicklung der Menschenrechte und Religionsfreiheit in Russland.

Die Russische Föderation unter der Führung von Präsident Putin zeigt eine harte Hand, was Grundrechte und Freiheiten jeglicher Art anbelangt: Es gibt praktisch keine Meinungsfreiheit in den Medien –  zugleich ist die Bevölkerung der vom Staat gelenkten Propaganda ausgesetzt; zahlreiche unabhängige Journalisten wurden ermordet. Auf der Rangliste der Pressefreieit (Reporter ohne Grenzen) befindet sich Russland auf Platz 148 zwischen Mexiko und Tadschikistan.

Die Regierung macht unabhängigen Menschenrechtsorganisationen die Arbeit schwer bis unmöglich. Russland ist in ein Nachbarland eingefallen und hat sich Teile des Territoriums einverleibt. Es hat auch Mitglieder der EU bedroht. Kritische Politiker werden eingesperrt und Wahlen finden im Stil der früheren Sowjetunion statt. Bürger, die gewaltfrei gegen diese Praktiken protestiert haben, wurden verprügelt und eingekerkert.

“Russland bildet die Vorhut autoritär regierter Staaten, welche permanent gegen Religions- und Gewissensfreiheit verstoßen. Ohne Einhaltung dieser fundamentalen Menschenrechte ist Gleichheit vor dem Gesetz und Demokratie praktisch unmöglich,“ betont Dr. Aaron Rhodes, Präsident von FOREF und Ehrenbürger der Republik Österreich. „Österreich kann jetzt nicht einfach zur Tagesordnung übergehen ohne sich einer ungeheuren moralischen Scheinheiligkeit schuldig zu machen.“

“Russlands Verbot der Zeugen Jehovas hat aus 170.000 friedlichen Bürgern de facto Verbrecher gemacht und der Zerstörungswut und Misshandlung ungeschützt ausgesetzt. Das Verbot für die Zeugen ist offenkundig nur ein Mosaikstein eines größeren Vorhabens, welches darauf abzielt, jede religiöse Minderheit zu unterdrücken. Es ist ein koordiniertes Vorgehen mit der Russisch-Orthodoxen Kirche, um angeblich „die Gefühle der Mitglieder der orthodoxen Gemeinde zu schützen.“

Willy Fautré, Präsident der Organisation Human Rights Without Frontiers berichtet: ”Zahlreiche Zeugen Jehovas sind mittlerweile eingesperrt worden, einige mehrere Monate lang. Die Behörden haben 30 Polizeirazzien durchgeführt und 20 strafrechtliche Ermittlungsverfahren eingeleitet. Das ist ein beispielloser Angriff auf die Religionsfreiheit seitens eines Mitgliedes des Europarates, das wirtschaftliche und politische Kooperation mit Österreich und anderen europäischen Staaten anstrebt. Wird jemand Putin zur Verantwortung ziehen?“ fragt Willy Fautré.

Russlands widerrechtliche Beschränkungen der Religionsfreiheit verletzen nicht nur die Menschenrechte und das Prinzip der Rechtsstaatlichkeit, sondern schürt Konflikte und Instabilität in der Gesellschaft. So sind die moslemischen Gemeinden durch die „Anti-Terror“ Gesetzgebungen und Maßnahmen enorm unter Druck geraten.

Die beiden Menschenrechtsorganisationen mahnen: Handelsabkommen mit der Russischen Föderation jetzt abzuschließen ohne ein „Gegengeschäft“ zur Förderung der Menschenrechte zustande zu bringen, bedeute einen Verrat an den moralischen Prinzipien, welche Österreich vorauszusetzen pflegt.

Rückfragen & Kontakt:

Aaron Rhodes (President, FOREF) 
/ +49-170-323-8314
Peter Zoehrer (Executive Director, FOREF) 
/ +43 664-523-8794

Willy Fautré  (Executive Director, HRWF)
Phone: +32478202069

Find the Press Release in English here (HRWF):

Press Release: FOREF and HRWF call upon the President and the Chancellor of Austria to raise the issues of religious freedom and human rights in Russia

Posted in Austria, Council of Europe, FECRIS, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, HRWF, Human Rights, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, OSCE, Persecution of Religious Groups, Putin, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Intolerance, religious persecution, Russia, Russian-Orthodox Church | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PAKISTAN: New Assault on Ahmadiyya Muslims

Pakistan:  Officials Take Part in a
New Assault on the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

Baitul Mubarak Mosque in Sialkot – before & after the attack

(FOREF – Vienna, 26. May 2018) The Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe (FOREF) condemns in the strongest terms the 23 May 2018 attack on the Baitul Mubarak Mosque in Sialkot, Pakistan, which resulted in the near destruction of the facility.  The mosque has historical and spiritual importance for the Ahmadiyya Community. 

According to information received by FOREF and media reports, the violence began with the destruction the house of Hakim Hassamuddin by the members of the Municipal Committee of Sialkot, who were escorted by local police. A mob of around 600 persons, reportedly from the local Sunni Muslim community, joined in for the attack on the nearby mosque, chanting anti-Ahmadiyya slogans. The attack took place over a period of about seven hours. Officials claim repairs on the building were illegal.

The Ahmaddiyya Community characterized the incident as “vandalism of buildings by the governmental administration for the mere satisfaction of extremist forces without any judicial order.”

“The government of Pakistan must conduct an impartial investigation and bring the perpetrators of these crimes, including local officials, to justice, and ensure that reparations are made for the damages done to these holy places,” according to Dr. Aaron Rhodes, President of FOREF.

“Our organization and other independent human rights institutions are ready to work with Pakistani authorities to put in place laws and policies that are consistent with Pakistan’s international legal human rights obligations to protect all religious minorities,” he added.

For more information:
Dr. Aaron Rhodes – President:
Peter Zoehrer  – Director General:

Links to news media accounts of the incident are below.

Posted in Ahmadiyya, blasphemy laws, Court Decisions, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, Islam, Limitations of Religious Freedom, mosque, Muslims, pakistan, Persecution of Religious Groups, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Intolerance, religious persecution, UN, UN Special Rapporteur | Leave a comment

Religious Freedom in the Russian Federation

The Russian Federation and Religious Freedom in the Spotlight- Side Session at the United Nations Geneva

A panel of human rights and freedom of religion experts, as well as the leader of Hinduism in Russia have been invited by a French NGO – CAP LC ( at the United Nations Office in Geneva during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session on Russia to address the alarming and shocking situation of religious minorities in the Russian Federation. Especially during the last 3 years not only minorities, but also large mainstream religions have been banned from public activities, such as the Hinduism Community – despite more than 20 years of perfect integration. But also Jehovah Witnesses, the Church of Jesus-Christ of Later Day Saints and many others.

Listen to the exposition of the hidden factor behind the “bad religion concept” and the dehumanizing activities of so called “anti-sect offices”, that are generously state funded. This is not only the case  in Russia but also in most of Europe.

List of Speakers:

  • Mr. Thierry Valle – President CAP LC
  • Mr. Peter Zoehrer – Director General of FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom in Europe
  • Ms. Patricia Duval – Human Rights Attorney
  • Ms Olga Sibireva – Religion expert SOVA Center – Center for Information and Analysis
  • Shri Prakash Ji – Leader of Induism in Russia, President of the Centre for Conservation of the Indian Culture
  • M. Prasun Prakash – Director of Public Affairs – the Centre for Conservation of the Indian Culture

Link with pictures (Copyright CAP LC):

Co-organized: by CAP Liberté de conscience, SOVA, FOREF, Shri Prakash Dham
For more information:
Images and sound: Michel Reymond, @GenevaUPTV

Posted in Alexander Dvorkin, Anti-Cult Movement, Christians, EU Special Envoy on FoRB, European Intergroup on FoRB & RT, FECRIS, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, German Müller, GSK, Hate Speech, Jehovah's Witnesses, Miviludes, OSCE, Putin, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Intolerance, religious persecution, Russia, Sects, Tom Sackville, UN, UNHRC, United Nations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bitter Winter: Daily News Online of Religion in China

On May 14, 2018, a new online news magazine has been launched at the International Book Fair of Torino, in Italy, Bitter Winter. The name refers both to the difficult situation of religious liberty in China and to a theme in classical Chinese painting.

The launch of Bitter Winter came at the end of FIRMA-Faiths in Tune, a five-day festival of religions and music that ran parallel with the Book Fair. At the Book Fair, two FIRMA awards were presented by an international jury, one to President Daisaku Ikeda of Soka Gakkai for his lifelong commitment to religious dialogue, and one to The Church of Almighty God, a Chinese new religious movement, for its resistance to religious persecution in China. Authorities, journalists, and a significant public attended both the festival, where The Church of Almighty God’s performers were among the most admired groups, and the award ceremony.

“This has a lot to do, commented Bitter Winter’s editor-in-chief, Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne, with our new magazine. I am a scholar of new religious movements. They are often the most persecuted groups in China and The Church of Almighty God is now the most persecuted of them all, replacing Falun Gong as the religious minority most severely targeted by the regime. While other worthy publications on China ignore the new religious movements, we will cover them together with mainline religions.”

Bitter Winter is in English, but Chinese and Korean editions will be online soon. Assistant editors of Bitter Winter are Willy Fautré, the veteran and highly respected Belgian human rights and religious liberty activist who leads Human Rights Without Frontiers in Brussels, and Rosita Šorytė, president of the International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees and former chairperson of the European Union Working Group on Humanitarian Aid. Italian journalist Marco Respinti serves as technical editor.

“What is also new in Bitter Winter, added Introvigne, is that we were able to establish a network sending news and pictures directly from China. To these unpublished news, we add a digest taken from international and Chinese media.”

Bitter Winter also publishes articles and interviews. In the first issue, the magazine publishes an interview with Father Bernardo Cervellera, the leading Catholic expert of China. He explains that the agreement between Holy See and China, much rumored about in the last months, is not being signed due by resistances within the Chinese regime. He also believes that claims that the agreement would be signed soon were spread by factions within both the Vatican and the Chinese Communist establishment favorable to it, while other factions are hostile.


Posted in Countries, Human Rights, Persecution of Religious Groups, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, religious persecution, Tibet, Torture | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment