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Chinese evangelist granted refugee status by NZ immigration tribunal

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A Chinese national who felt compelled to preach has been given refugee status in New Zealand. Photo / 123rf

A Chinese evangelist on an “unstoppable mission” to share the gospel despite being detained, interrogated, and hit on the head with a police baton has been granted refugee status in New Zealand.

For years in China he preached to everyone he came across, was accused of being a cult member, made to denounce his faith, and dismissed as insane.

But the Immigration and Protection Tribunal has, in a recent decision, granted him refugee status, saying the man was credible and consistent with his claim to be a person for whom spreading the word of God was “fundamental to his sense of identity”.

He had a well-founded fear of being persecuted for his religion and political opinion if sent home, the tribunal said in recognising him as a refugee and halting his deportation.

Now in his 50s, the Chinese national became Christian after he moved to the European Union for work in 2005.

He returned to China in 2009 and joined a state-sanctioned church, but left when he felt rejected for being seen as “cultist” by the congregation.

The church had a “political atmosphere”, he told the tribunal. Services were held on the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, and they had to sing the national anthem.

For several years, he evangelised to friends, acquaintances, and eventually strangers – people he met in parks and on taxi rides – finding ways to steer the conversation to God. Some were open, others thought he was insane, he said.

He believed the Chinese Communist Party was strong but the well-being of ordinary citizens was weak. They “lived in darkness”, he told the tribunal, brainwashed by politics and fixated on money, power, and self-interest.

In 2012, the police started watching him, saying he was part of an overseas cult. It did not stop the man, who continued evangelising.

In April or May 2013, he was summoned to a police station, detained for a day and interrogated, beaten up and hit on the head with a police baton.

He was told his preaching was an attack on the Chinese Communist Party and made to write a statement promising to stop reading the gospel and being a cult member. He was required to report monthly to the police and banned from leaving his city without permission.

The man reported to the local police officer twice, where he was made to read patriotic newspapers and write a statement repenting his actions.

He continued proselytising, but took more care doing it.

In 2014, sent to Beijing on a work trip, he was arrested by plain-clothed police officers on arrival, detained for hours and sent home. Afterwards, police called his parents and visited his workplace looking for him and requiring him to report to them.

He was eventually fired and moved to live with his wife’s parents in the countryside for two years. There, he decided he had to leave China.

In 2017, he arrived alone in New Zealand on a three-month visitor visa. For two years, he worked as a cargo unloader and lived in warehouses close to work, fearful to go anywhere in case he was arrested for overstaying his visa. His contact with the outside world was limited but he continued talking to people he met about his faith.

In early 2019, he found a Chinese church where he would go on to be baptised and remained a member.

He continued evangelising, he told the tribunal.

“This is fundamental to who he is, and he regards it as his ‘unstoppable mission’. He will not stop doing it,” the decision said.

“The Tribunal has no doubt that the appellant’s activities have been and will continue to be interpreted by local officials in China as challenging ‘the interests or authority of the Chinese government’,” tribunal member Bruce Burson said in the ruling.

He said the man’s message that wellbeing can only be found through a relationship with God and not through the policies of the Chinese Community Party (CCP) “strikes at the heart” of the CCP’s social contract with the people.

That social contract, the decision continued, was “effectively an enforced trade-off” between civil and political freedoms in return for stability, economic prosperity and wellbeing.

“While his evangelising is not overtly political, it is this street-level delegitimisation of the Chinese Communist Party that drives the risk to him.”

Burson said accusations that the man was spreading an “evil cult” under foreign influence significantly increased his risk profile.

The decision also cited a recent US Department of State report as continuing to paint a picture of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and the torture of political and religious dissidents by Chinese state agents.

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