After an early morning police raid, Chinese Christian refugees in Thailand now face imminent deportation back to China and persecution, human rights advocates told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Thai police are allegedly transporting the 63 members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as the Mayflower Church, to Bangkok to be repatriated to the People’s Republic of China, Deana Brown, 68, founder of Freedom Seekers International, told the DCNF while in Thai custody. Along with church members, Thai police also arrested and confiscated the passports of Brown and fellow Texan, Stacy Nichols, 51, who’d both just arrived in Patayya, Thailand, for a week-long visit with the congregation on Thursday, Brown said.
In October 2019, the Mayflower Church, led by Pastor Pan Yongguang, fled religious persecution at the hands of the CCP. After a vote, the church decided to resettle in Jeju Island, South Korea, where a travel visa would not be required for Chinese citizens, Pastor Pan told the DCNF in March 2022.
However, after trying for several years, the South Korean government did not ultimately grant the members of the Mayflower Church asylum and so in August 2022 the church decided to try for asylum again in Thailand, according to ChinaAid. (RELATED: Communist China Cracked Down On Christians In 2022, Report Says)
“We think we’re being kidnapped,” Brown told the DCNF in a call made Friday morning from within a Thai police vehicle traveling north from a court in Pattaya. Shortly after she and Nichols arrived in Patayya on Thursday morning, around 25 Thai police arrived at the church’s location and arrested congregants for overstaying their visas, Brown said.
Brown told the DCNF that congregants are “fearful” and that she is concerned for the safety of the members of the Mayflower Church, while adding that she is also “concerned for Stacy and me at this point.”Although the Thai court allegedly promised congregants on Friday that they’d be allowed to remain in Thailand after paying a fine for overstaying their visas, Brown told the DCNF that she and the church members have now been placed in police vehicles and are being driven north away from the church’s residence, assumably to Bangkok.
“I’m just trying to continue to have faith in God,” Nichols told the DCNF.
Brown said that upon realizing the police vehicle was headed north, church members began to scream, at which time Thai police pulled over and fought with some of the congregants.
“We urge Thai authorities to remain vigilant and resist Chinese State Security officers’ efforts to intimidate the Mayflower churchgoers and unduly influence the judicial process,” New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith told the DCNF.
“These families of great faith cannot be deported to Communist China where it is certain that they will be tortured and persecuted,” Smith said.
Smith told the DCNF that he recently raised the issue at a meeting with Thai officials this month and remains engaged with the Thai embassy.
“I’m concerned about what will happen,” Brown told the DCNF. “There was a compromise about 10 days ago and we’re wondering if this is a backlash.”Trouble began when the civilian intelligence service of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Ministry of State Security (MSS), allegedly “flipped” one of the members of the Mayflower Church using “coercive means,” a source familiar with the case told the DCNF.
In recent years, the MSS allegedly established a “Special Task Force” focused exclusively on hunting the fugitive Mayflower Church, Pastor Bob Fu, founder of ChinaAid, told the DCNF. The individual who allegedly cooperated with the MSS recently confessed his betrayal to church members, Jonathan Dingler, communications director at ChinaAid, told the DCNF.
“It is unclear how long he had been doing this,” Dingler said.
After discovering the alleged informant, the church “acted quickly and found a new place to stay within 24 hours,” but the “flipped” individual remained behind, Dingler said.
“Some of our sources on the ground confirmed that the compromised member stayed at the previous location until he was taken by Chinese operatives,” Dingler said.
However, the individual had allegedly already told MSS agents about the church’s location, which likely led to Thursday’s early morning raid by Thai police, Dingler said.
“They’re all over, I’ve seen them before,” Brown said, referring to the presence of Chinese police operating in Thailand.
Brown called the arrangement between Chinese and Thai police “cooperatives.”
Brown told the DCNF that plain-clothes CCP “operatives” have been “interfacing with members when they’re out and about” since the church fled to South Korea and that the harassment has continued unabated despite relocating to Thailand.
CCP agents employ a range of intimidation techniques, Brown said. For example, Mayflower church members have been followed and filmed in public and CCP agents have also intimidated members through calls and texts using their family members still living in China as leverage.
MSS agents very likely coerced the church member who allegedly “flipped” into cooperation by threatening his family members remaining in China, sources familiar with the case told the DCNF.
“The United States government must act quickly. We’re learning that the CCP will move fast to repatriate the Mayflower Church,” Dingler told the DCNF. “International pressure could be the difference for these Christians, most of which are children.”“This is a situation that is implicating the religious liberty of the members of the Mayflower church and is also one that implicates international law in regards to the treatment of refugees,” Morse Tan, dean of Liberty University’s School of Law, told the DCNF.
“They should not be forcibly returned back to a government, namely the Chinese Communist Party, that is rightfully expected to persecute and mistreat them,” said Tan, who formerly served as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice in the Trump administration.
Tan described the Mayflower Church members as “real refugees, real asylees who deserve to be given refuge and asylum” and said that under international human rights law returning such individuals to harm would violate the principle of non-refoulement.
“If there is a danger of persecution upon the return of those who are claiming to the refugees, they should not be allowed to be sent back to be persecuted,” Tan said.
Given the real threat posed by the CCP, the members of the Mayflower Church have rights under the Refugee Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on Civil and Political Rights which must be respected, Tan said.
“It would be very disturbing if they were allowed to be thrust back into the clutches of the Chinese Communist Party,” said Tan.
The State Department, Thai Embassy and U.S. Embassy in Thailand did not respond immediately to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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