Torino, Church of Almighty God Refugees in Italy Speak at a Religious Liberty Event

A musical performance and a speech presented a situation that is still extremely difficult and needs the support of friends of religious liberty.

by Massimo Introvigne

Musical performance by members of The Church of Almighty God.

On May 11, in Torino, within the framework of a set of initiatives organized by the local committee Fedinsieme (Faiths Together) and by the Italian chapter of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable during the International Book Fair, a delegation of The Church of Almighty God presented a musical show and a testimony by one of their refugees in Italy.

After the audience had admired the grace and skills of the performers, one refugee spoke about the problems The Church of Almighty God encounters both in China and in Europe. “I am not here,” she said speaking to an audience coming from different countries, “to present a political position but to testify about the problems of religious liberty in China: my own problems and the reasons I am in Italy.”

She mentioned the increasingly harsh persecution in China of religions that are not part of the government-controlled organizations and the expanding use of the category of “xie jiao” (“heterodox teachings,” sometimes less correctly translated as “evil cults”) to blacklist and repress groups the government does not approve of.

The Church of Almighty God member’s testimony.

She reported that, “The Church of Almighty God, as the largest independent Christian new religious movement in China, has been severely repressed. The authorities have declared our Church illegal and are actively trying to eradicate it through a plan calling for our ‘total destruction.’ Based on this plan, for three consecutive years more than 10,000 members of our Church have been arrested every year. The number of those sentenced has increased for four consecutive years, with a yearly average increase of 26%. In 2023 only, with respect to five years before in 2017, the number of arrests was four times higher, the number of sentences 13 times higher, and the number of sentences to long jail terms 9,5 times higher.”

“What can we do in this situation?” she continued. “All efforts by international organizations to ask China to grant to us, and to others, a minimum of religious liberty have not been successful. Leaving our country is a difficult choice, and none of us likes it. However, for many brothers and sisters fleeing abroad it is the only way to freely practice our faith. Those who remain risk every day to go to jail.”

When they arrive in Europe as refugees, however, not all problems of The Church of Almighty God devotees are solved. “Our situation as refugees is not easy either,” she mentioned. “We are grateful to scholars who have studied our church, to human rights organizations, to lawyers, and to governmental agencies, recently including the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom in its 2024 yearly report published a few days ago, that have called the attention of the world on our situation. Thanks to them, some of our brothers and sisters in different countries, including in Italy, have seen their conditions as refugees recognized.”

The Church of Almighty God delegation with Massimo Introvigne, “Bitter Winter” Associate Editor Rosita Šorytė, and CESNUR’s Luca Ciotta.

Others, however, “continue to have problems. In Spain, the case of our sister Li Yanli, who was well-known for having starred in the popular Christian films we produced, was mentioned by national media after she tried to commit suicide in Madrid Airport while she was being deported back to China. Her tragic story led to the support of media and lawyers, and she was allowed to remain in Spain. However, another brother who was with her, called Liu Qi, was deported back to China from Spain and we do not know what happened to him.”

Italy has granted asylum to several Church of Almighty God refugees. However, the speaker reported that they “are currently experiencing problems with brothers and sisters who have seen a first application for asylum rejected. When they try to present a second application, in 95% of the cases asylum commissions deny that there are ‘new facts’ supporting it, although scholars and human rights expert have documented that the situation in China is in fact getting worse.”

She concluded by asking for “more support from friends of religious liberty, lawyers, and human rights activists.” “We simply want to practice our faith in peace,” she said, “and if this is impossible in China, then we ask to be allowed to do this abroad.”