The Christian family details the repression of the church in China
TAIPEI: This week's Sunday service at an unpretentious church in Taiwan was especially moving for a man. It was the first time Liao Qiang had publicly revered himself since the authorities closed his church in China seven months ago.
The 49-year-old arrived in Taiwan last week after fleeing China with five family members. He and his 23-year-old daughter, Ren Ruiting, described that they lived under constant surveillance for the past seven months after authorities detained them and dozens of other members of their church prominent but not approved by the government in December.
The ruling Communist Party of China has carried out widespread repression against all religious institutions in recent years, including demolishing churches and mosques, excluding Tibetan children from Buddhist religious studies and imprisoning more than one million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in what is called reeducation centers. The president and party leader, Xi Jinping, has ordered that all religions must Sinicize to ensure they are loyal to the officially atheist party.
In contrast, the democratically elected government of Taiwan has always adopted a non-intervention approach to religion on the island, where the majority continues Buddhism and traditional Chinese beliefs, but where Christianity and other religions also thrive.
The story of Liao and Ren is the first detail of what has happened since the arrests at the Early Rain Covenant Church began. It shows the determination of the Chinese government, and the efforts it has made, to eradicate a congregation that has long been a thorn in its side.
Early Rain pastor Wang Yi, who remains in detention, has criticized Xi and the party. He has pledged to hold a prayer service on June 4 of each year to commemorate the bloody crackdown on democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, an anniversary that the Chinese government has tried to erase from memory.
Ren told The Associated Press that he had to report his whereabouts to the police using social media every time he left. They told him that his safety could not be guaranteed if he disobeyed.
That's when I learned that it was no longer safe for us here, and that my children were in greater danger, Liao said after Sunday's service, which was attended by about 30 people, at the small Xinan Presbyterian Reformed Church in Taipei .
Government officials in China did not respond immediately to requests for comments.
The Chinese government requires Protestants to worship only in churches recognized and regulated by the Three Autonomous Patriotic Movement officially sanctioned, although many more are part of independent congregations.
On December 9 and 10, more than 100 Early Rain members were arrested by the church or their homes, according to Human Rights Watch. The detainees include Wang, the pastor. His wife, Jiang Rong, was released on bail last month.
Liao said the police tried to force him to sign a declaration of resignation from his church, but he refused.
If our elders decide to break the church, then I can accept it, he said. But it's not up to you to say it's bad or illegal.
Liao and her family hope to stay in Taiwan while seeking asylum in the United States, but with a 15-day tourist visa, their future is unclear.
I'm not sure if they can stay beyond the visa, unless the Taiwanese government is willing to present a humanitarian case on the basis of religious persecution, said Chiu Ling-yao, secretary general of the Taiwan Association for Humanity. China Rights, which tries to help the family find a solution.
The spokesperson for the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US Embassy, could not be contacted for comment.
Ren hopes that one day she can return home.
One day, when China opens, we will return, he said. Whether it is five years, or even 10 years, we will eventually return to where God wants us to serve.