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A Chinese Christian battling in U.S. courts to prevent his deportation to China won a reprieve from the Board of Immigration Appeals, which reversed an earlier decision to send him back to the communist country.

Xiaodong Li, who was denied asylum by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, says he would face certain imprisonment if deported.

The three-member Board of Immigration Appeals reversed its own 2003 ruling Oct. 6.

In August, the 5th Circuit upheld the panel’s decision denying asylum.

But a broad coalition, including the Alliance Defense Fund and Amnesty International, led the board to reopen the case. The coalition was joined Sept. 30 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a panel established by Congress to bring religious rights issues to bear on foreign policy.

“Everyone agrees that the United States should be the world leader in protecting human rights and religious freedom,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “This was a clear cut case of religious persecution, and ADF is pleased that the board reached this wise conclusion.”

China restricts Christian worship to officially registered churches under government control. Millions of Protestants and Catholics gather in house churches.

Li obtained a visa and left China in 1995 after being beaten, shocked, jailed and forced to clean public toilets without pay, fearing further torture and imprisonment.

Despite his reprieve, the appeals court remains on the books.

Cortman said the Alliance Defense Fund is asking the Department of Justice to vacate the court’s decision denying Li asylum.”

“It is important to all those facing religious persecution that the Li decision be withdrawn by the court,” he said.

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