Chinese family seeks Taiwan visa extension to pursue U.S. asylum

Liao Qiang and his family

Liao Qiang and his family (By Central News Agency)

Taipei, July 10 (CNA) Six members of a family from Sichuan Province, southwest China, that flew to Taiwan last week after their church was reportedly shut down by the government, has asked for an extension to their 15-day-limited visas to allow them to continue their stay until they are granted asylum in the United States.

Liao Qiang (廖強), 45, arrived in Taiwan July 4 with his wife, 23-year-old daughter Ren Ruiting (任瑞婷), son-in-law Peng Ran (彭然), as well as his 11-year-old son and three-year-old adopted son, on independent traveler visas. With the assistance of the non-governmental Taiwan Association for China Human Rights (TACHR), Liao appealed recently to the Taiwan government for a visa extension as the family seeks to secure asylum in the U.S.

Asked about the request, the Mainland Affairs Council, the top government body handling cross-strait affairs, said Tuesday that Taiwan does not yet have a refugee law and so there is no mechanism to deal with applications by Chinese nationals seeking asylum in the country. Nevertheless, the government handles such cases based on existing laws and in the spirit of human rights protection and humanitarianism, the agency said.

The Liao family is part of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, a non-officially-sanctioned family church founded by pastor Wang Yi (王怡) in 2005. Before becoming a clergyman, the 46-year-old Wang was a human rights lawyer, liberal scholar and writer.

In 2009, the church began to hold an annual prayer service on June 4 to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident, an anniversary the recognition of which Beijing frowns upon. As a result, the church's activities were closely monitored by the government, which led to the arrest of Wang, several church elders and over 100 followers on Dec. 9, 2018, Liao said in an interview with CNA on Tuesday.

"Police first cut the power, and as soon as the believers opened the door, they rushed in and arrested them," Liao recalled. The chapel and other church properties were then confiscated with Wang detained on charges of "inciting subversion of state power," according to Liao.

According to a post by the Early Rain Covenant Church on its Facebook page in mid-June, five church members, including Wang, were still in detention as of the end of 2018. Liao and his family were questioned by local police over their involvement in the banned church, which also ran a school where Ren was educated and Liao's 11-year-old son was being taught until the 2018 crackdown.

Although China requires Protestants to worship only in churches recognized and regulated by the officially sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement, there are many independent congregations. Unable to tolerate constant interrogations and harassment by the police, while also concerned the custody of his adopted son could be revoked, Liao decided to seek asylum overseas.

At first he considered Thailand, but gave up the idea due to the country's lengthy procedure to acquire refugee status. The family eventually applied for visas to Taiwan as independent travelers and flew to Thailand before taking a flight to Taiwan July 4. "We have nowhere to go," said Liao, adding that he never dreamed he would one day have to leave China.

Saying they may be the first Early Rain Covenant Church members to leave, Liao asked the world to pay more attention to the human rights of Wang and his followers and the problem of religious freedom in China.
TACHR Secretary-General Chiu Ling-yao (邱齡瑤) urged the Taiwan government to introduce a refugee law as soon as possible so authorized agencies can verify the identity of people seeking refugee status.