Hope for Sister Zou Demei: Lawyer Files Motion to Reopen her Case

Hope for Sister Zou Demei: Lawyer Files Motion to Reopen her Case
Attorney Russell Abrutyn

Mr. Russell Abrutyn, attorney for the leader of The Church of Almighty God in four Chinese provinces currently detained in Detroit, who faces deportation back to China and possible execution there, has filed a motion to reopen her case, with new evidence.

Readers of Bitter Winter may be familiar with the case of Ms Zou Demei, a Chinese woman detained in Detroit and facing deportation back to China, where she will be arrested and probably executed.

Ms Zou was until 2016 the regional leader of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), a Christian new religious movement banned in China, in the four provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Chongqing, and Sichuan. This made her one of the top leaders of the CAG in China, and one of the most wanted by the authorities, with a substantial bounty placed on her head. As all CAG members, she destroyed all evidence of her true identity and went under the pseudonym of Yao Lu.

In 2016, Ms Zou was informed that she was wanted not only as a leader of a banned religious movement, which was already bad enough, but on trumped up charges of espionage, which might lead to the death penalty. She managed to escape from China with the passport of another person with her picture pasted on it and reach South Korea. Since South Korea, unlike the U.S. and Canada, has not granted asylum to any CAG refugee and it was unsafe for her to live there with a false passport, she decided to move to the U.S. She landed in Detroit on January 24, 2017, where her passport was detected as false and she was arrested.

Language problems prevented her and a few co-religionists who initially tried to help her to make her case understandable to the American authorities, and her asylum request was denied on December 4, 2017, with an order that she should be deported back to China. Her appeal was rejected on May 22, 2018.

At this stage, the CAG contacted several NGOs, and instructed a specialized lawyer, Mr Russell Abrutyn of Detroit, who took over representation of Ms. Zou and was informed that Homeland Security intended to deport her back to China after August 15, 2018.

Mr Abrutyn has now filed a motion to reopen with the Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest administrative immigration court in the United States. This motion was based on new evidence that only recently became available thanks to the campaign by the international human rights community, a campaign that has drawn increased attention to Ms. Zou’s plight. As a result of this campaign, the people whose lives she touched through her leadership role in China with the CAG recognized her picture (although she had known her under a different name) and came to her defense by corroborating her role within the CAG.

In addition, Mr. Abrutyn explained, “the Board of Immigration Appeals has been provided with official government reports, which should have been but weren’t provided before, highlighting the religious persecution in China against the CAG and its adherents.”

Bitter Winter, who has led the campaign in favor of Ms. Zou, trust that, with the new documents, deportation to China, which would lead to her arrest and detention and most probably to her execution, may be avoided. However, Ms Zou needs any help she may receive from institutional and private advocates for religious liberty and human rights.