Six Early Rain Church Members Granted Political Asylum in US

The family of Liao Qiang has been living temporarily in democratic Taiwan pending resettlement, in the absence of a refugee law.
Six Early Rain Church Members Granted Political Asylum in US A prayer gathering at the Early Rain Covenant Church in Sichuan's capital Chengdu is shown in a file photo.

A family of six linked to the Early Rain Covenant Church in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan has been granted political asylum in the United States after fleeing China for the democratic island of Taiwan, RFA has learned.

Early Rain member Liao Qiang and five family members traveled to Taiwan while on a trip to Thailand in 2019, and were temporarily settled in Hsinchu while their U.S. asylum application was processed, Liao's daughter Ren Ruiting told RFA.

"Back then, all we knew was that we were heading for Taiwan, thinking that there would be some kind of law about refugees there," Ren said. "We didn't realize until we got there that we would just be there while we were waiting to go to the U.S."

"We went along with the arrangements, as there was no way for us to stay in Taiwan, so we will go to the U.S. and settled wherever something has been arranged for us," she said.

While the administration of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President Tsai Ing-wen is proud of its human rights record, Taiwan, which has a refugee law in the pipeline, is traditionally wary of granting political asylum to Chinese nationals for fear of triggering a flood of applications.

In the absence of legislation on refugees, Taiwan has tended to find workarounds if the authorities decide to allow someone to stay on the island, rather than issuing a blanket residency.

On Dec. 30, 2019, the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court jailed Early Rain pastor Wang Yi for nine years, after finding him guilty of "incitement to subvert state power" and of "running an illegal business" in a secret trial.

Wang, who founded the church, was detained by police in Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu on Dec. 14, 2018, alongside dozens of church members in a raid that prompted an international outcry.

Some Early Rain Covenant Church members who were detained in raids on Dec. 9 and 10, 2018, and later released said the police had beaten them, and one detainee described being tied to a chair and deprived of water and food for 24 hours, rights groups reported at the time.

'Impossible to go back'

Ren said church members had initially believed the authorities would leave them alone after Christmas, and then after Lunar New Year, but the raids and police harassment had continued well into the next year.

"My plan at the time was to keep a low profile for maybe six months or so and then go back," Ren said. "But it became clear after I arrived in Taiwan that it would be impossible to go back."

"[Church members] are still under very close surveillance ... with no sign of any relaxation at all," she said.

Ren said the authorities had used some of her comments to overseas media to intimidate relatives back home in China, with police warning that she could be "locked up" if she went back now.

Liao, his wife, Ren, her husband and Liao's two younger sons will all be resettled in the U.S., after attending school temporarily in Taiwan.

She said she has already been struck by a stark difference between the political cultures in China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and in Taiwan, a fully democratic society with an accountable style of government.

She said President Tsai's public apology for the fatal train crash in April had been a key moment.

"I have never seen the CCP apologize for anything," Ren said. "This is the free world, and governments need a humble attitude to run this country."

Persecution getting worse

Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, said his organization had partnered with a Taiwanese group to support the applications of Liao and his family.

He said religious persecution is only worsening under CCP leader Xi Jinping.

"Xi's anti-Christianity campaigns are pretty terrifying," Fu said, adding that churches are being forced to kneel before symbols of CCP authority, which he described as "idols."

"There are still around 7,000 who have refused to bow down in the face of oppression by the CCP, people who have been locked up, like pastor Cao Sanqiang, elder Hu Shigen, lawyer Gao Zhisheng, and pastor Wang Yi," Fu said.

"Many of them have been jailed for more than 10 years, and are still suffering in prison," he said.

But he called on the Taiwan government to pass a refugee law as soon as possible to aid others fleeing authoritarian rule and persecution under the CCP.

"Many people have been persecuted or even committed suicide under the CCP’s enforcement of the national security law, and yet their families and large numbers of students remain stranded," Fu said.

"This is the the way things are in Taiwan right now."

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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