Sixty Chinese Christians apply for asylum in Czech Republic

Photo: Gene Zhang, CC BY 2.0

Sixty Chinese Christians have applied for asylum in the Czech Republic, according to Hospodářské noviny. The newspaper says that if their applications were approved it would amount to accusing Beijing of violating human rights. The move comes against a backdrop of closening ties between Prague and Beijing.

Christian church in China,  photo: V.T. Polywoda,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Sixty Chinese Christians have recently applied for political asylum in the Czech Republic, Hospodářské noviny reported on Wednesday.

Members of 10 different denominations, they say they face persecution at home because of their faith, according to the newspaper.

The Chinese Christians arrived in the Czech Republic in a number of waves between February and May this year.

They are being held at two detention facilities, one in east Bohemia and one in the far east of the country. They are reported to be unusually guarded, fearful that family members still in China may face recriminations.

Photo: Gene Zhang,  CC BY 2.0
Few of those who apply for asylum in the Czech Republic are from the world’s most populous state. Last year four Chinese people requested sanctuary; in 2014 it was 15.

In the past half-decade Prague has granted asylum to six Chinese citizens. However, those cases were heard before Czech leaders launched a reset of relations with Beijing, moving away from a previous partial emphasis on human rights to a far more business-focused approach that has borne fruit.

Chinese investments in the Czech Republic have been growing fast, with the Lobkowicz brewery and Slavia Football Club a couple of the most eye-catching purchases.

Xi Jingpin,  photo: Angélica Rivera de Peña,  CC BY-SA 2.0
Czech politicians have become frequent visitors to the communist state and there was great fanfare for a visit by President Xi Jingpin to Prague in March.

Against this backdrop the Prague government now finds itself in a rather sensitive position. Hospodářské noviny says that if the Christians are granted asylum, that would amount to an official declaration that China violates human rights.

Martin Rozumek, director of the Organisation for Aid to Refugees, an NGO, told the daily that he does not expect the applications to prove successful.

In Mr. Rozumek’s view the Ministry of the Interior has long followed a policy of trying to deter asylum seekers, and that is unlikely to change.

Under Czech law the Ministry of the Interior has 90 days to rule on asylum claims. However, this can be extended to six months, meaning that decisions on the Chinese citizens’ applications may not be forthcoming until the end of the year.