Chris Lange, FISM News
More than 60 Chinese Christians arrested in Thailand were released Friday after paying fines, ending a harrowing ordeal that involved two American citizens.
Members of the self-exiled Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also called the Mayflower Church, were arrested by Thai authorities Thursday, sparking fears that they would be sent back to China, where they would likely face persecution.
The church members have sought asylum in Thailand since 2022. Prior to that, they had relocated to South Korea, where members said they had been continuously stalked and harassed by Chinese Communist Party proxies. Their family members who remain in China were also “summoned, interrogated, and intimidated,” per The Associated Press.
Deana Brown, a U.S. citizen who supports the church, said that she, another American, and 63 church members, many of whom are children, were detained in the coastal city of Pattaya on Thursday.
Col. Tawee Kutthalaeng, chief of the Pattaya-area Nong Prue police station, said that 32 adult Chinese nationals were charged with overstaying their visas. Their children were not charged, and Brown and the other American, identified only as “a nurse,” had not been placed under arrest.
Brown provided an update Friday that the group had been released after paying fines, though amounts were undisclosed at the time of this report. Brown said the group planned to go to the local police station to retrieve their passports, which had been seized at the time of their arrest.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok declined to comment on the arrests. The Associated Press said that the Chinese embassy did not respond to an emailed request for a statement and that the embassy’s press section did not answer the phone.
CCP THREATENED TO TAKE CUSTODY OF CHURCH MEMBERS’ CHILDREN
Members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church in southeastern China endured years of harassment by the CCP, but it was the government’s more recent threats to take away members’ children that prompted them to flee to South Korea’s Jehu Island in 2019, according to the Freedom Seekers International (FSI) website. Brown is the CEO of the Texas-based nonprofit.
South Korea’s refusal to grant asylum to the church members stemmed from its “fear of China and its political guidelines against resettling Chinese in Korea,” according to FSI.
The church members traveled to Thailand in 2022 after South Korean and U.S. officials made it clear that their prospects of obtaining asylum were slim.
Brown said that when the group made inquiries about renewing their Thai visas, they were advised of a new requirement that they must first report to the Chinese Embassy.
“When they told us that, we knew that nobody could get their visas,” Brown said.
“There was no way because as soon as they walk into the Chinese Embassy they’re gone, we would not see them again,” she continued, adding that church members had “been hiding out since then.” Their visas expired two months ago.
Brown said she is working to resettle the church members in Tyler, Texas, where FSI is based, but said that they had run into problems with their visas in Thailand.
The Chinese Communist Party has far-reaching tentacles in multiple countries, developed over decades, in its ongoing campaign to suppress any form of dissent from its citizens. FISM reported in January that harassment of Chinese nationals living in Pennsylvania has become so prevalent that the FBI released a series of social media ads in Mandarin asking those who had been targeted to contact the Bureau’s Philadelphia field office.
Intimidation tactics employed by the CCP, which the U.S. government refers to as “transnational repression,” include physical and cyberstalking, extortion, assault, and persecution of family members.
Freedom Seekers International’s stated mission is “to rescue ‘last resort’ and the most severely persecuted Christians in hostile and restrictive countries. Through methods of resettlement, we save their voices, allowing the Gospel to continue through their lives.”