Members of exiled Chinese Church in Thailand jailed

PATTAYA, Thailand (AP) – More than 60 members of a Chinese Christian church have been arrested in Thailand, supporters said on Friday, stoking fears they could be taken back to their home country where they may face persecution.

Deana Brown, one of two American supporters arrested with the church members, told The Associated Press that Thai authorities in the coastal city of Pattaya arrested the 63 church members, many of whom are children, on Thursday.

Thirty-two adult Chinese nationals have been charged with overstaying their visas, said Colonel Tawee Kutthalaeng, chief of the Pattaya-area Nong Prue Police Station. Children would not be charged, he said. The two American citizens were not arrested, he said.

Members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as the Mayflower Church, came to Thailand in 2022 to seek asylum. The current status of their request was not immediately clear.

They fled China in 2019, claiming their members were being pursued by government security forces, initially settling on the South Korean island of Jeju. They left South Korea for Thailand after meetings with local and US officials made it clear the prospects of refuge there were slim.

Brown, CEO of Texas-based Freedom Seekers International, an organization whose mission statement says it is trying to rescue “the most severely persecuted Christians in hostile and restrictive countries,” said the group was told they would later have a court date would receive Friday.

Brown said she is working to relocate church members in Tyler, Texas, where her organization is based, but they are having trouble with their visas in Thailand. She said she believes she and the other American, a nurse, were arrested because they were there when church members were taken into custody.

She said that when the group wanted to renew their visas, they were told there was a new requirement that any Chinese citizen renewing a visa in Thailand must first report to the Chinese embassy.

“When they told us we knew nobody could get their visas,” said Brown, who was allowed to keep her phone while in custody.

“No way, because as soon as they enter the Chinese embassy, ​​they’re gone, we wouldn’t see them again. They’ve been hiding ever since.”

The press department of the Chinese embassy in Bangkok did not answer the phone, and the embassy did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

The US embassy said it had no immediate comment on the case.

On arrival in Thailand church Members told reporters that they themselves had been stalked, harassed and received threatening phone calls and messages while in South Korea. They said relatives in China were summoned, interrogated and intimidated.

At the time, China’s Foreign Ministry said the matter was “not a diplomatic matter” and declined to comment further.

In China, Christians are legally only allowed to worship in churches affiliated with Communist Party-controlled religious groups, but for decades authorities largely tolerated independent, unregistered “house churches.” They have tens of millions of believers, possibly outnumbering the official groups.

In recent years, however, house churches have come under a lot of pressure, and many prominent ones have been closed. In contrast to previous crackdowns, such as Beijing’s ban on Falun Gong, a spiritual movement it describes as a cult, authorities have also targeted some believers who are not explicitly opposed to the Chinese state.

Most members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church are young, middle-class, married couples, with their children making up about half the group.

Bob Fu, founder of ChinaAid, another Texas Christian group that helps the church, told the AP that American lawmakers are urging the US State Department to get involved.

In a statement on his website, Fu said that time is of the essence.

“Before the Chinese government demands repatriation, the international community can help prevent this tragedy,” he said.


Dake Kang contributed to this story from Bo’ao, China. Rising reports from Bangkok

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