This year marks the 25th anniversary of the original signing of the International Religious Freedom Act, noted Ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain in recent Congressional testimony:
“25 years of protecting a human right that is fundamental to the history of the United States, integral to our national identity and governance, as expressed in the first Amendment and a core component of our foreign policy.”
The International Religious Freedom Office at the State Department works to protect and defend religious freedom around the world, including persecuted Christians in China, said Ambassador Hussain:
“This year, the International Religious Freedom Office worked extensively with the Shenzhen Holy Reform Church. . .to protect their members right to freedom of religion or belief in the face of relentless pressure from the Chinese Communist Party even after they fled China on April 7th.”
In recent years, house churches have come under heavy pressure by Chinese Communist authorities, with many prominent ones shut down. Founded in 2012, the Shenzhen church was not registered with the State and therefore illegal. According to rights groups, members were harassed by government authorities and church meetings were frequently raided by police. Authorities also threatened to shut down an underground religious school they operated. As pressure continued to build, the congregation voted to leave China, with many members departing between late 2019 and early 2020.
The Shenzhen church started its journey to freedom by first fleeing to the South Korean island of Jeju. With limited hope for gaining asylum, Church members fled again, this time to Thailand. Fearing a forcible return to China after being arrested for visa overstays in Thailand, rights groups, non-governmental organizations, and the Office for Religious Freedom advocated for the release of the Chinese Christians, explained Ambassador Rashad Hussain:
“As a result of our efforts in the IRF [International Religious Freedom] Office and broader department efforts and coordination with Congress and other U.S. government agencies and NGOs, I was honored to welcome members of this church as they arrived to the United States at DFW Airport and was pleased that they celebrated Easter at a Texas church in safety on May 16th.”
“We stand united as Americans,” declared Ambassador Hussain, “for the sake of those who suffer due to their religion or beliefs.”