Catholic defector wants NZ to understand democratic freedom

Catholic defector

A Catholic defector granted asylum in New Zealand in 2018 says he wants New Zealanders to understand the importance of democratic freedom.

When Dong Luobin, now 39, fled from Auckland’s Consulate for the People’s Republic of China nearly five years ago, he told NZ police he feared his Catholicism was putting his life in danger.

Six months later New Zealand authorities granted him refugee status. They concluded he faced persecution over his religious and political views were he to return to China.

“Defections are a particularly rare occurrence,” says Rhys Ball, a senior lecturer in security studies at Massey University. This is the first defection of a foreign government official or employee on New Zealand soil that Ball is aware of since the 1947-1991 Cold War.

Dong says he’s speaking out publicly about his experiences to help New Zealanders understand the importance of their democratic freedoms.

He describes his early working life in Auckland as one where he and others were constantly watched, monitored and controlled.

He worked in a multi-building compound surrounded by a high barbed-wire-topped wall. Staff, mostly non-English speakers lived on site, had to surrender their passports to the consulate, and were able to leave the compound only in groups of three or more.

When Dong started work at the consulate in 2016, physical security wasn’t as tight, enabling him to sneak out during lunchtimes or evenings to visit a nearby church.

Dong is a third-generation Catholic. He says practising his faith in China was subject to surveillance and repression.

His absences to attend church secretly were noticed and on 7 May 2018 he was questioned by consulate staff about his whereabouts the previous day and why he did not answer his phone.

He began to fear the crucifix he wore around his neck may also have been noticed and his religious beliefs would soon be discovered.

Coincidentally that morning he had been given possession of his passport to take to the Automobile Association for his New Zealand driver’s licence: It presented an opportunity for escape.

The Catholic defector first tried seeking asylum in the church he had surreptitiously visited, but the pastor he sought was not present and staff called police. He was taken to an Auckland police station where he was interviewed with the assistance of a Mandarin-speaking officer.

“I said to the translating officer, ‘If you send me back to the consulate I will die’. Then the police perhaps understood my situation. The officer said, ‘Don’t worry, we will protect you.’”

The following day Dong made contact with a lawyer who immediately filed an application for asylum.

National Party MP Simon O’Connor says while most New Zealanders will be aware of the [Chinese Communist Party’s] repression of Uighur Muslims or suppression of freedoms in Hong Kong, they mightn’t know Christians are also aggressively targeted.

O’Connor, a staunch Catholic, said Dong’s story should be a warning for New Zealand: “His story, and why he defected, illustrates the paranoia of authoritarian regimes.”


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News category: New Zealand.

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