A Falun Gong practitioner who provided false information to get a visa to enter New Zealand has been granted refugee status following a successful appeal.
The Immigration and Protection Tribunal found the woman, who had been arrested, mistreated, reprimanded and fined for her practice, is a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Convention.
Although there was no substantial grounds to believe she "would be in danger of being subjected to torture if deported", the tribunal ruled she cannot be deported from NZ because she was recognised as a refugee.
The mother of one, who has name suppression, claimed to be at risk of being persecuted by Chinese authorities because of her practice of Falun Gong.
The woman, who is in her mid-30s, was born and raised in a Chinese province and her parents experienced difficulties because they had three children when China had a one child policy.
After she got married in 2000, she borrowed money to open a grocery shop and 10 years later used her savings to open a restaurant.
However, the restaurant business failed because local police, authorities and criminals alike refused to pay for their food. She because frustrated and depressed.
In 2014, her sister helped her fund a holiday in Australia "for some rest and clarity of mind", and while there she found work among the local Chinese community.
A contact suggested she lodge a claim for refugee status and introduced her to a lawyer, but her claim was declined. She reluctantly returned to China in 2016, and became depressed and unwell.
Her maternal aunt, a Falun Gong practioner of 20 years, then introduced her to the spiritual method, believing its combination of meditation and exercises could help improve her mood and wellbeing.
In October 2017, matters came to a "crisis point" when four police officers arrested her at her parents' home. She was taken to the local police station with another practitioner, where they were interrogated and faced physical and verbal abuse.
Out of fear, she admitted to her involvement with Falun Gong and was forced to sign a document. She was kept in a bare cell until her father paid RMB6000 ($1290) for her release.
That evening, she gathered her belongings and left the village. The woman obtained a visa to travel to New Zealand and paid for a return flight using the remainder of the savings she had brought back from Australia.
She came to New Zealand at the end of 2017 and came upon local Falun Gong practitioners in Auckland and joined them in activities to publicise Falun Gong and alert people of the Chinese government's mistreatment of practitioners in China.
On occasion she also took part in silent protests outside the Chinese Consulate in Auckland.
The woman lodged a claim for refugee and protected person status in early 2018, saying it would be unsafe for her to return to China. However, her claim was declined by a refugee and protection officer late last year.
Tribunal member Andrew Molloy noted that despite the woman's profession of truthfulness as one of the tenets underpinning her practice, she was "quite prepared to mislead where it suited her to do so".
"It is apparent that the agent who represented her in China provided false information to improve her ability to obtain a visitor visa for entry to New Zealand," Molloy said.
"A fake letter from a non-existent employer was provided, along with a claim that she had two children, not one. The purpose ... was clearly to strengthen the impression that she had strong reasons to return to China."
The tribunal noted that since the late 1990s, Falun Gong practitioners have been subjected to arbitrary detention and "re-education through labour" camps.
"Many have died in detention, following torture and ill-treatment," it said.
It found the woman to be a genuine Falun Gong practitioner who wished to continue manifesting her beliefs.
Molloy said there would be a real chance of her being persecuted if returned to China.