ACLJ Files Critical Submission Defending Christians in China and Requesting the Immediate Release of Pastor John Cao


CeCe Heil

October 22, 2020

5 min read

Persecuted Church



We have told you about China’s continuous persecution of Christians and attacks on religious liberty. These attacks span from arbitrarily arresting pastors to surveilling churches and even implementing laws and regulations that essentially regulate what religious groups can and cannot say. Through our European affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), we filed an urgent written submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) detailing China’s continued attacks on religious freedom.

As we stated in our submission:

In December of 2019, a Chinese state-run news agency published the Administrative Measures for Religious Groups. These new government regulations went into effect on 1 February 2020. Under these new regulations, religious groups are prohibited from engaging in religious activities without prior approval from the government, and are also required to accept and “support the leadership of the Communist Party of China”. Moreover, they must also “adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of religions in China, embody the core values of socialism and maintain national unity, ethnic unity, religious harmony, and social stability”.

Furthermore, under article 17: “Religious organizations should publicize the guidelines and policies of the Communist Party of China, national laws, regulations, and rules to the clergy and religious citizens, in order to instruct and direct the clergy and religious citizens to support the rule of the Communist Party of China, support the socialist system, follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics . . .”.

There are also reports that the National Security Bureau has implemented arrest quotas targeting Christians.

Yet another form of targeting Christians is a required arrest quota. According to reports, police stations located in Dalian, the second-largest city in Liaoning Province, are being graded based on the number of Christians they arrest. One police officer from Dalian stated that they received notice from the National Security Bureau that set out how many Christians they needed to arrest as part of the performance-assessment plan. He also stated that other police stations in Dalian had received similar notices.

Furthermore, we again raised the case of imprisoned Pastor John Cao and reminded them of his continued unlawful detention.

On 12 August 2019, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted Opinion 35/2019 (China) regarding Pastor Cao’s unlawful detention. They found in favor of Pastor Cao, noting among other things, that “his arrest was carried out in a manner that singled out Mr. Cao on the basis of his religion,” and was a clear violation of articles 7 and 19 of the UDHR. The working group requested that the Government of China “remedy the situation of Mr. Cao without delay.” Further stating that “the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Cao immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law”. Despite the Working Group’s opinion and request, Pastor Cao remains in Kunming prison, and has now been unlawfully detained for over three years.

It is imperative that China immediately reform its laws and allow for greater religious freedom. As a Charter member of the United Nations, China must uphold and protect the rights of all of its citizens.

This Council should address China’s continuous violations of the freedom of religion by firmly reminding China of its obligations as a Charter member of the United Nations and a signatory to the UDHR and the ICCPR. This Council should also urge China to not only reform its laws and policies regarding religious freedom but also to refrain from enforcing the current laws, as they severely restrict[] fundamental human rights. The purpose of this Council is to protect the human rights of individuals living around the world. China has an obligation to ensure that the rights of all of its citizens are protected, including the rights to freedom of religion and belief, and the right to receive equal treatment under the law.

We followed up this critical written submission with an oral intervention at the UNHRC in Geneva, Switzerland. Focusing on the plight of Pastor Cao, we stated:

China is becoming an increasingly hostile place for Christians, who represent 5 to 7% of its population. China, under the guise of “National Security Interest,” is targeting religious minorities for persecution, using surveillance technologies to control and intimidate them.

Pastor Cao, who has been wrongfully imprisoned for three and a half years, is the face of the increasingly harsh treatment Christians in China are facing today.

Pastor Cao, a U.S. lawful permanent resident, has faithfully served the people of China for over two decades as a missionary. Pastor Cao conducted his commendable humanitarian work openly and without incident until March 2017, when he was wrongfully targeted, arrested, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Over one year ago, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted an Opinion regarding Pastor Cao’s unlawful detention. Its conclusions were clear: China violated international law; Mr. Cao must be released without delay and should be granted compensations and reparations.

To date, Pastor Cao remains in prison. It’s a clear indication that China intends on continuing its crackdown on Christians and ignoring its international obligations.

This Council should firmly back the Working Group’s decision: Pastor Cao must be immediately released.

Join us as we continue to stand up and fight for persecuted Christians in China and demand the immediate release of Pastor Cao.