The hopes of China's Mayflower Church to escape Communist persecution and continue their journey to religious liberty in America remain in doubt, after they were arrested, fined then released.
Dramatic video sent to Premier from the scene near Bangkok airport suggests church members are in great distress over fears they could be poised for forcible deportation back to China, where they face prison.
"They have beaten us, they have beaten our sisters. They even stepped on us when we were down on the ground", the unnamed woman in the video clip is heard saying. "Can they even call themselves police? As law enforcement officers, they break the law", she adds.
On Thursday, dozens of police acting for the Thai immigration authorities swooped on a hotel where sixty-three members of Shenzhen Reformed Holy Church, also known as the Mayflower Church, were staying.
Twelve men were held in jail overnight, while women and children were returned to the hotel. “Time is of the essence”, Bob Fu of China Aid Association explained to Premier.
But after reports came into Premier today from Washington that they’d all been released, sources on the ground in Thailand gave an alert that the group, made up of 28 adults and 35 children, were being taken to Bangkok airport for what Premier has been told is "processing reasons".
According to these sources, a Thai police officer on the bus had told the distressed women that they were being sent back to China.
“We are working on it”, said a Washington insider working to secure the group's release.
In a message to Premier Christian News, lawyer Bob Fu of Texas-based China Aid Association said it remains important to pray, as the group still hope to make it to freedom in America.
“Before the Chinese government make demands of Thailand for repatriation, please help prevent this tragedy from happening. They will be treated harshly in the Communist prison once they are expatriated,” he added.
Col. Tawee Kutthalaeng, chief of the Pattaya-area Nong Prue police station, confirmed that thirty-two adult Chinese nationals were charged with overstaying their visas. Children were not charged, he said. One report seen by Premier says they were fined.
China Aid say the church members had originally fled to Jeju Island in South Korea, before continuing their journey to Thailand, to stake their asylum claim, ahead of hopes of finding safety in America.
But according to an assessment of the security risk facing the church seen by Premier, its members were stalked, harassed and received threatening calls and messages by agents acting for the Chinese regime. They said relatives in China had also been summoned, interrogated and intimidated.
“Thailand has often been a first place of sanctuary for people escaping persecution and seeking long term resettlement elsewhere”, commented crossbench peer and Christian campaigner Lord Alton of Liverpool.
Speaking to Premier he added, “It would be tragic for escapees and represent a body blow to Thailand’s reputation if it was to capitulate to the sort of pressure and intimidation of which we all know the Chinese Communist regime is capable.”
In a statement to Premier, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Fiona Bruce MP, described the steps she was taking in response to the arrests:
“I am briefing the Foreign Secretary, alerting our Embassy in Thailand and ensuring our desk officer in the FCDO (Foreign Office) in London is informed.
“I am asking if I can join a US State Department briefing being held I understand later today and encouraging our FCDO officials to be in contact with their US counterparts to see what else we can helpfully do.“
Since 2018 and the introduction of repressive new religion regulations in China, it has been illegal for under-18s to go to church – and Mayflower Church has 34 children in their group.