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Human Rights

Persecution of The Church of Almighty God: From bad to worse



The British Conservative Party Human Rights Commission report called again the attention on a brutal campaign of repression, made worse by COVID-19, writes Rosita Šorytė of 'Bitter Winter'.

They call it epidemic prevention. In the Chinese province of Hebei, special teams go door to door, and inspect apartments and houses, ostensibly to make sure that anti-COVID measures are implemented. But in fact, they are instructed to check books and documents, and look for dissident or religious literature. In the apartment rented by Chen Feng (not his real name), they found material of The Church of Almighty God, a movement prohibited in China that is currently the most persecuted religious group there. Chen was promptly arrested and taken to the police station, where he received hard slaps across the face, and was shocked with electric batons. The police officers poked his ribs with an iron rod, struck his lower legs, and covered his head with a plastic bag.

This is one of the testimonies The Church of Almighty God (CAG) offered to the team preparing the report on human rights violations in China of the British Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which was published on January 13. The report submitted to the Conservative Party Human Right Commission by the CAG is now available on the Commission’s Web site.

The Commission’s report itself summarizes the information it obtained on the CAG’s “brutal suppression and persecution.” The CAG told the Commission that at least 400,000 of its members were arrested since 2011, and 159 were persecuted to death. The report mentions documents by the Chinese Communist Party at the national and provincial level, calling for increased repression of the CAG through all legal and illegal means.

Readers of Bitter Winter frequently encounter articles about the arrest, torture, and extra-judicial killing of CAG members in China. Sometimes, we are afraid that repeated news of the persecution may be perceived as routine. As noted by psychologists who have studied reactions to protracted war and terrorism, humans have a defense mechanism that softens responses to even the most horrific information, when it repeats itself. News about the torture of CAG members, or Uyghurs or others, in China shock when we first read them. When similar news hit us every week, our minds tend to file them away as routine.

This is something the UK Conservative Party report is well aware of. It reminds us that what is happening daily in China is not simply a routine of evil. The persecution does not only repeat itself. It worsens. The CAG submission evidences three important aspects of how things are getting worse.

First, artificial intelligence is not just a slogan used by the CCP to show how advanced Chinese technology is. Each advance in technology has immediate police applications. Now each Chinese police officer is equipped with a Huawei Mate10 mobile phone that has a facial recognition function. which allows the police to scan the faces of passers-by and be immediately connected with information about them. Even in many private homes, citizens are compelled to install eavesdropping devices and cameras connected with the police, whose data are immediately analyzed. The same satellites we all use for being helped by GPS when driving a car continuously watch in China the movements of millions of citizens. These technologies improve every day, and are increasingly used to identify and arrest CAG members and other dissidents.

Second, the COVID-19 pandemic also made the situation considerably worse. On the one hand, it offered a handy pretext for increased surveillance and for door-to-door visits to all Chinese households. There are documents specifically asking “epidemic prevention teams” to look for CAG materials, and teaching team members how to recognize them. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic had effects on Chinese and international economy, and increased the demands for slave labor.  CAG members, as it happened to Uyghurs, Tibetans, and others, were increasingly sent, with or without a court trial, to unpaid, back-breaking slave labor, for 15 to 20 hours a day.

A female CAG member called Xiao Yun testified to the UK commission that she was forced to work at least 13 hours every day in a workshop, sewing sweaters. “The air was full of dust and dark smoke as well as a noxious odor of fabric dye. She was abused and beaten by prison guards over a long period of time,” until she developed tuberculosis. Yet, she had to keep working. In 2019 when Xiao Yun was finally released, “she had already sustained damage to her left lung, which had essentially lost its capacity to breathe; she was no longer able to perform any physical work.”

Third, COVID-19 determined a renewed CCP effort at international propaganda, as it had both to deny any responsibility for the pandemic and claim that the anti-COVID effort in China was the most effective in the world. As part of this so-called “wolf warrior diplomacy,” Chinese embassies throughout the world aggressively confronted CAG and other refugees abroad, distributing propaganda material that denied the persecution, and trying to persuade the authorities in democratic countries that asylum should not be granted and refugees should be deported back to China—where they will be arrested, or worse.

Part of this propaganda, which will surely be reiterated after the UK Conservative Party report, argues that, after all, we know that the CAG is persecuted in China only through CAG’s own statements, studies by scholars somewhat sympathetic to the CAG, and documents by governments and NGOs in countries such as the US and the UK, which are accused of having an anti-China political bias. Academic presses publishing the scholars’ findings and governments issuing reports on human rights normally have serious procedures to double-check what they publish, but this is not even the main answer to such objections.

What those who claim that the persecution of the CAG is “not proved” overlook is that a rich information about how many CAG members are arrested, sentenced, and detained, not for having committed any crime but simply for attending religious gatherings, evangelizing their relatives or co-workers, or keeping at home CAG literature, is offered every week by CCP sources. Not only decisions sentencing CAG members to long years in jail are regularly published in CCP media. China, as I and some colleagues reported in a study of hundreds of such cases, maintains the largest data base of court decisions in the world. This data base, while admittedly not complete, publishes every year decisions sending to jail hundreds of CAG members, sentenced just for the normal practice of their religion. Who tells the world that CAG members are persecuted? Primarily, it is not Bitter Winter, the UK Conservative Party, or the US Department of State. It is the CCP itself, and why should we doubt the CCP’s own documents?


Rosita Šorytė was born on 2 September 1965 in Lithuania. In 1988, she graduated from the University of Vilnius in French Language and Literature. In 1994, she got her diploma in international relations from the Institut International d’Administration Publique in Paris.

In 1992, Rosita Šorytė joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania. She has been posted to the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to UNESCO (Paris, 1994-1996), to the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 1996-1998), and was Minister Counselor at the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the United Nations in 2014-2017, where she had already worked in 2003-2006. She is currently on a sabbatical. In 2011, she worked as the representative of the Lithuanian Chairmanship of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) at the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (Warsaw). In 2013, she chaired the European Union Working Group on Humanitarian Aid on behalf of the Lithuanian pro tempore presidency of the European Union. As a diplomat, she specialized in disarmament, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping issues, with a special interest in the Middle East and religious persecution and discrimination in the area.  She also served in elections observation missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Belarus, Burundi, and Senegal.

Her personal interests, outside of international relations and humanitarian aid, include spirituality, world religions, and art. She takes a special interest in refugees escaping their countries due to religious persecution and is co-founder and President of ORLIR, the International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees. She is the author, inter alia, of “Religious Persecution, Refugees, and Right of Asylum,” The Journal of CESNUR, 2(1), 2018, 78–99.


Human Rights

New Decree on Human Rights in Kazakhstan.



President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has signed a decree “On further measures of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the field of human rights”, which instructs the government to approve the Kazakh government’s action plan setting out “Priority Measures in the Field of Human Rights”.

Protection of human rights has been a priority for President Tokayev since his election as Head of State in June 2019.

He highlighted specific plans for government actions aimed at addressing human rights issues through legislation during a second meeting of the National Council of Public Trust in December 2019, and also spoke about human rights issues during his annual State-of-the-Nation Address in September 2020.

In particular, he instructed the government to take comprehensive measures to protect citizens, especially children, from cyberbullying, combat human trafficking and torture.

In February 2021, the President proposed a new package of measures aimed at enhancing human rights protection for convicted persons, as well as strengthening legal mechanisms for the protection of the rights of women.

The new decree is in line with the concept of a “listening state”, put forward by President Tokayev.

It envisages a government that listens to the comments and criticisms of the society. As part of this concept, the government is implementing substantial political reforms that cover three broad areas – democratisation of the country’s political system, more power to the people, and strengthened human rights.

The new decree covers the areas of:

•            Improving the mechanisms of interaction with the UN treaty bodies and special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council;

•            Ensuring the rights of victims of human trafficking;

•            Human rights of citizens with disabilities;

•            The elimination of discrimination against women;

•            The right to freedom of association;

•            The right to freedom of expression;

•            The human right to life and public order;

•            Increasing the efficiency of interaction with non-governmental organisations;

•            Human rights in criminal justice and enforcement, and prevention of torture and ill-treatment.

The adoption of the decree further formalises human rights as one of the basic priorities of state policy. The implementation of its provisions will further promote the protection of human rights in Kazakhstan and contribute towards building a just and progressive state.

Speaking to the Astana Times,  Erlan Karin, aide to the Kazakh President, reflected on previous human rights reforms initiated by Tokayev, including the abolition of the death penalty in late 2019. Karin pointed out a consistent focus on the importance of regulations against cyberbullying, human trafficking, torture, staff misconduct in penitentiary institutions and gender discrimination in Tokayev’s state-of-the-nation addresses and meetings with the National Council of Public Trust.

“The significance of this decree lies in the fact that with its ratification, the human rights theme is finally incorporated as one of the basic priorities of state policy. The implementation of all the provisions enshrined in today’s decree will foster a comprehensive modernization of the human rights sphere and will become our next step towards building a just and progressive state,” said Karin.

President of the Charter for Human Rights Public Fund Zhemis Turmagambetova stated that the relevance of the human rights issue and that the decree presents an opportunity to transform the issue from an abstract problem into a practical matter with efficient solutions.

“It is the government’s turn to develop plans for the implementation of the decree. It must clearly follow the principles of a responsive government. This process should take place in a constructive partnership between government agencies and civil society, national and international experts and scientists. Civil society has something to contribute to the matter,” said Turmagambetova.

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Commissioner Johansson participates in two events addressing trafficking in human beings



Today (6 May), Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson (pictured) is participating in two events addressing trafficking in human beings. In the morning, the commissioner will deliver a keynote speech at an event on ‘Trafficking in the Digital Era' organized by the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. The conference will address the digital dimension of trafficking and provide insight into safe paths to recovery and justice for children. Speakers include Agnė Bilotaitė, Minister of Interior of Lithuania, Petya Nestorova, Executive Secretary of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, and Cathal Delaney, Head of Team Analysis Project Twins at Europol. The conference will also feature a youth panel sharing their perspectives throughout the day. The event takes place online and you can register here.

In the afternoon, Commissioner Johansson will participate in the virtual meeting of the EU Network of National Rapporteurs and Equivalent Mechanisms and the EU Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings to discuss the recently adopted EU Strategy on combatting Trafficking in Human Beings which focuses on preventing the crime, bringing traffickers to justice and protecting and empowering victims. Taking into account the complex nature of the crime and the need for cross-border cooperation, the meeting will be an occasion for experts to discuss how the Commission, EU member states and civil society organizations can further cooperate to maximize the impact of actions foreseen in the Strategy. Speakers include Secretary of State for Citizenship and Gender Equality for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU Rosa Monteiro and acting EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator Olivier Onidi.

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European Commission

Fighting trafficking in human beings: New strategy to prevent trafficking, break criminal business models, protect and empower victims



The Commission has presented a new Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025), focusing on preventing the crime, bringing traffickers to justice and protecting and empowering victims. Between 2017 and 2018, there were more than 14,000 registered victims within the European Union. Globally, traffickers make estimated profits of €29.4 billion in a single year. With demand for exploitation expected to continue, traffickers moving their acts online and the pandemic likely to create the conditions for increased exploitation, today's strategy sets out the measures that will allow the EU and its member states to continue strengthening their response.

Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: "Fighting trafficking in human beings is part of our work towards building a Europe that protects. Traffickers prey on people's vulnerabilities. With today's Strategy, we are taking a three-pronged approach, using legislation, policy and operational support and funding in tandem to reduce demand, break criminal business, and empower victims of this abominable crime."

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: "Trafficking in human beings is a crime that should have no place in our societies. Yet, criminals continue to traffic victims, mainly women and children, and mostly for sexual exploitation. We owe the victims protection, and we need to bring to justice the perpetrators who treat human beings as a commodity. We will look at the rules in place to check if they are still fit for purpose and we will assess the possibility of criminalising the use of exploited services from trafficking victims.”

The strategy builds on the EU's comprehensive legal and policy framework in place to address trafficking in human beings, rooted in the Anti-trafficking Directive. The Commission will continue to support member states in the implementation of the Directive and, if necessary, will propose revisions to make sure it is fit for purpose. The EU anti-trafficking coordinator will continue to play a key role in the implementation of this strategy.

In addition, the Strategy focuses on:

  • Reducing demand that fosters trafficking: The Commission will assess the possibility of establishing minimum EU rules criminalising the use of exploited services of trafficking victims and will organize - together with national authorities and civil society organiZations - a prevention campaign targeting high-risk sectors. The Commission will also consider strengthening Employers' Sanctions Directive and will propose legislation on corporate governance to clarify the responsibilities of companies and will provide guidance on due diligence to help prevent forced labour.
  • Breaking the business model of traffickers, online and offline: The Commission will conduct a dialogue with internet and technology companies to reduce the use of online platforms for the recruitment and exploitation of victims. The Commission will encourage systematic training of law enforcement and judicial practitioners on detecting and addressing trafficking in human beings.
  • Protecting, supporting and empowering the victims with a specific focus on women and children: The Strategy seeks to improve the early identification of victims and their referral for further assistance and protection, strengthen victim empowerment programmes and facilitate re-integration. The Commission will also fund gender-specific and child-sensitive training to help police, social workers, border guards or healthcare staff detect victims.
  • Promoting international cooperation: With half of the victims identified in the EU being non-EU citizens, cooperation with international partners is key to address trafficking. The EU will use a range of foreign policy instruments and operational cooperation to help combat trafficking in countries of origin and transit including through dedicated human rights and security dialogues, enhanced cooperation with the Council of Europe and regular and targeted communication, action and exchange of information with EU delegations in partner countries. The upcoming Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling will also help disrupt traffickers' business in moving victims for exploitation to Europe.


Trafficking in human beings remains a serious threat in the EU despite progress achieved in the past years. Victims are mainly women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation. The third report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings, published in October 2020, provides a factual overview on the progress made, presents patterns and challenges and key issues in addressing trafficking in human beings in the EU.

As trafficking in human beings is often perpetuated by organised crime groups, the Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings is closely linked to the EU Strategy to Tackle Organized Crime also presented. Protecting society from organised crime, including tackling trafficking in human beings, is a priority under the EU Security Union Strategy.

The new Pact on Migration and Asylum also highlighted the importance of the early identification of potential non-EU victims of trafficking in human beings.

More information  

Communication on the EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings 2021-2025 

MEMO: EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime & EU Strategy on combatting Trafficking in Human Beings  

Factsheet: Fighting Trafficking in Human Beings

Press release: Fight against organized crime: New 5-year strategy for boosting cooperation across the EU and for better use of digital tools for investigations  

Third report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings 

EU Anti-Trafficking Website 

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