Catholic bishops in the Czech Republic have urged solidarity with dozens of Chinese Christians, who still await a government ruling on political asylum requests submitted two years ago. "We hope a fair solution can still be found for these people - and our Church is ready to contribute if it can", the Czech Bishops' Conference said. "The outcome of this process is not a matter of indifference to us, when their plight is being exacerbated by so much uncertainty and anxiety".
The statement was issued as at least 60 Catholic and Protestant Christians awaited final court rulings on their petitions to stay in the country, after previous requests were rejected by the Czech Interior Ministry.
The Church appeal is the latest of several on behalf of the Chinese, who say they fear being arrested for "betrayal and desertion" if forcibly returned home. In 2016, the Czech primate, Cardinal Dominik Duka, told President Xi Jinping in a letter that the persecution of Christians in China was currently "crueller and more painful" than the harassment of Czech Christians under communist rule.
Meanwhile, in April 2017, the chairman of the Czech Church's Justice and Peace Commission, Bishop Vaclav Maly, accused his government of "prioritising trade ties over human rights" in its treatment of the asylum-seekers, only eight of whom have been accepted, adding that their settlement would "improve the reputation of the Czech Republic" after international criticism of its attitude to refugees from Syria and Iraq.
In a recent report, Amnesty International said Chinese seeking to stay abroad had been accused of "betraying their native land", but added that the tightening of state control over religious communities in China, under new February regulations, would strengthen the arguments of Christian asylum seekers.
In its statement, the Bishops' Conference urged prayers for the Chinese Christians, adding that it was grateful some Czechs were ready to help people who "only wanted to live in a free society", and hopeful the negative court rulings would be "properly revised".
Several dozen Chinese, who requested asylum in February-May 2016, are currently being held in Czech reception centres at Havirov and Kostelec nad Orlici. A lawyer acting on their behalf, Maria Ludvova Ostrava, told the CTK agency the refugees were "extremely cautious" about publicity, fearing the "persecution of relatives" in China, and said the Czech Interior Ministry had "taken advantage" of extensions in the deadline for processing their asylum claims.
Several dozen Christians from Syria and Iraq are also being housed in Prague and Cesky Tesin, although Czech Church leaders have opposed the admission of Muslim asylum-seekers.
PICTURE: Masked Czech policemen guard a group of Chinese people arrested while illegally crossing the Czech-German border in 2003. (Image/PA).