The upcoming Olympics in Beijing are putting a spotlight on China’s human rights abuses, and rightfully so. Religious freedom conditions are continuing to deteriorate in China. Things were so bad for one house church, that they fled together to South Korea. That same group of Chinese Christians could be repatriated. South Korea has chosen to deny these asylum-seekers.
In late 2019 and early 2020, 60 Chinese Christians left their homes in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, seeking religious asylum on Jeju Island, a popular tourist spot in South Korea. The group of 28 adults and 32 children hailed from Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, following the lead of their pastor Pan Yongguang who went to Korea before them. At the end of January, the Gwangju High Court denied the church’s final asylum appeal. They now face imminent deportation to China unless another country grants them refuge.
In China, Pastor Pan Yongguang and his congregation faced increasing pressure. By 2014, authorities were often interrogating him multiple times a week, urging him to join the Chinese Communist Party-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Yet, refusing to teach Party-approved doctrine, Pastor Pan resisted. Chinese authorities targeted the church for extra surveillance. Soon, the church-run elementary school was evicted. It was devastating for parents in the church who simply wanted to educate their children with a Christian worldview. Surveillance is not something new in China.
Digital persecution, involving surveillance, censorship and disinformation, is directly linked to China’s Social Credit System whereby data, including DNA information enables the authorities to monitor all aspects of life, judge citizens’ behaviour and reward or punish them accordingly. Perceived ‘bad’ behaviour can affect your employment prospects, access to education, quality of healthcare, housing provision, tax breaks, consumer credit rating, and freedom of movement. Recently, the CCP introduced an app allowing citizens to report anyone with ‘mistaken opinions’ online. And it has now become compulsory to install facial-recognition technology in state-sanctioned churches.