Author archives: Arielle Del Turco

With Modi’s Reelection, India’s Religious Minorities Remain Under Threat

by Arielle Del Turco

May 31, 2019

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected for another five-year term last week in a decisive victory. The Hindu nationalist party he represents, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), secured a majority in the lower house of Parliament, earning the most seats in the history of the party.

All of this is bad news for the Christians living in India.

Persecution of Christians has grown significantly worse during Modi’s leadership and the rise of the BJP. The BJP advances a growing narrative that suggests “to be Indian is to be Hindu.” The fact that Christian and Muslim minorities have chosen a faith other than Hinduism is seen as an attack on the national identity of India. Earlier this year, BJP Member of Parliament Bharat Singh even claimed Christian missionaries were “a threat to the unity of the country.”

The popularity of the BJP’s ideology is reflected in actions taken not just by the government, but also by mobs and vigilante groups. Militant groups are known to patrol neighborhoods “looking for those who do not conform to society’s religious norms.” For Christians in India, mob violence is a continual threat. Violence against the Christian community has included beatings, sexual assault, and forced conversions to Hinduism. In 2017, there were 736 reported attacks against Indian Christians. That’s up from 358 reported attacks in 2016.

Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List ranks India as one of the top ten countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian. Before Modi was elected to his first term as Prime Minister in 2014, India was listed as No. 31.

At the recent Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum, speakers addressed India’s use of anti-conversion laws to target Christians and limit the natural expression of beliefs which is part of religious freedom. The provisions of India’s anti-conversion laws prohibit “fraudulent” conversions or offering “inducements” to convert. For instance, when a Christian claims the price for not accepting Jesus is hell (part of the basic message of Christianity), that’s seen as coercive and a violation of the anti-conversion law.

This has already had consequences for the people of India. Hindu radicals have begun to display “a pattern of accusing Christians of forced conversion, which is a crime in certain Indian states that can be punished with imprisonment.” In 2017, Christian humanitarian aid organization Compassion International was accused of actively attempting to convert children. They were subsequently forced to stop operating in the country. The organization was India’s largest single foreign donor and had provided medical care, meals, and tuition money for Indian children.

Christians aren’t the only victims of the BJP’s attempts to make India an exclusively Hindu country. Muslims in India are also fearful about Modi’s second term and the increasing influence of the BJP.

Modi’s right-hand man, Amit Shah, who was newly given charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Modi’s new cabinet, has been particularly critical of Muslims. Shah has called Muslim migrants “infiltrators” and “termites” and promised to “remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs.”

Like the Christian community, Muslims have also been the victims of Hindu mob violence. They are often targeted because they eat beef, an offense to Hindus who believe cows are sacred. Since 2015, 36 Muslims have been killed by mobs in the name of “cow protection.”

Religious minorities in India are concerned about what Modi’s re-election and the BJP’s parliamentary victory means for religious freedom in the next few years. As people who care about religious liberty, we need to be monitoring developments in India and praying for the persecuted.

The Trump administration currently wants to maintain a positive relationship with Modi’s government because we need strong allies in a region that continually poses a risk to U.S. national security. There is value in that strategy. Yet, even as U.S. leaders continue to work with the government of India, they should make clear in that relationship that the U.S. values religious freedom and that we notice the way our allies treat their religious minorities.

China is Trafficking the Organs of Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

May 29, 2019

The boldness and scope of the Chinese government’s human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim population has been continually increasing in recent years. It is estimated that at least one million Uyghur Muslims are currently detained in what China calls free “vocational training centers” but in reality are massive internment camps in which detainees are indoctrinated with Chinese Communist Party propaganda.

While these developments have been well-documented, lesser known is an even more horrifying accusation leveled against China—the trafficking of human organs.

The Wall Street Journal reported that a team of researchers have proven that patients in China (including those that travel from abroad) are promised matching organs for transplant within a few days—an unbelievably short amount of time compared to the wait in Western countries which ranges from a few months to a few years. This is especially interesting given that organ donation is still culturally taboo in China.

So, where are these organs coming from? Some have accused China of forcibly removing organs from prisoners of conscience and selling them—a program of which Uyghur Muslims are among the victimized minorities.

Dr. Enver Tohti, a former surgeon from the Xinjiang province, has testified that China harvests organs from executed prisoners and sells them illegally. In the UK, the panel of the Independent Tribunal Into Forced Organ Harvesting From Prisoners of Conscience issued an interim judgement stating they were “certain—unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt—that in China, forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practised for a substantial period of time, involving a very substantial number of victims.”

Uyghurs across Xinjiang are forced by the government to undergo medical exams which include DNA sampling. Uyghur residents claim their information was stored in computers during the exam, but they were never given the results of the testing. According to reports by China’s state media, examinations were carried out on more than 90 percent of the population of Xinjiang. Chinese authorities claim that the Uyghurs’ DNA database is intended to help solve crimes and identify bodies. However, the great expense of the program and forced nature of the exams are causes for suspicion.

Who is buying these organs? Evidence suggests patients from over 20 countries have traveled to China for transplants, including Korea, Japan, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. The European Parliament has found that illegally harvested kidneys in China and elsewhere costs approximately $167,000 (150,000 Euros). 

Tohti has stated he believes most customers of Uyghur Muslim organs are wealthy Saudi transplant recipients and that China specifically markets these organs as “Halal” to appeal to Middle Eastern Muslims. Tohti argues that the reason for China’s compulsory blood sample collection from the Uyghur population is to develop a “live organ-matching database.”

The Chinese government is investing serious money into their DNA sampling program. China is clearly planning to profit from their human rights abuses—the rest of the world needs to make sure that they don’t. Israel, Taiwan, and Spain have already banned “organ tourism” to China—more countries need to join in to help stop this abuse. It’s imperative that governments take steps to ensure that their citizens aren’t traveling to fund and participate in human rights abuses abroad.

As trade talks between the U.S. and China continue, China’s human rights violations need to be at the forefront of the discussions. China’s organ trade isn’t a minor violation—it’s indicative of systematic harassment, abuse, and even murder of its religious minorities.

China Continues to Oppress the Uyghurs. Our Trade Talks Can Be a Platform for Change.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 13, 2019

Last week, WIRED featured a report on the Chinese government’s extensive use of technology as they continue to oppress religious minorities.

The Chinese government has been involved in a long-running series of crackdowns against their Uyghur population, a Muslim minority group. China currently holds approximately one million Uyghurs in prison camps, where they are subjected to torture and indoctrination by the communist party. China claims these are counter-terrorism measures.

As technology has evolved, it has provided the Chinese government with more tools to harass this community. In recent years, China has been monitoring social media apps—including WeChat, an app which uses the Uyghur language—supposedly to stamp out pornography and information leading to violence and terrorism.

Uyghurs are often arrested for information found on their phones, including downloading apps blocked in China such as WhatsApp, or being caught with religious content on their phones.

China’s Uyghur population is concentrated in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. China has started to use facial recognition technology to track Uyghurs throughout the province as they go about their day. Facial recognition devices are fixed to the entrances of supermarkets, malls, hospitals, and at police checkpoints every few hundred feet.

This report of China’s surveillance crackdown on one of their religious minority communities is a reminder of the serious violations of religious freedom that the Chinese government continues to perpetrate against its own people.

We can be thankful that the U.S. has a leader in President Trump who stands up to China and isn’t timid on the international stage. In addition to the positive impact religious freedom has on economic development, trade discussions can be a platform to raise human rights concerns and advance religious freedom for the benefit of oppressed communities. We can hope and pray that the Trump administration will use the current trade talks with China to do just that.

Asia Bibi Is Finally Free!

by Arielle Del Turco

May 8, 2019

This week marked a long-awaited victory for religious freedom when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for a blasphemy charge in Pakistan, was finally reunited with her family in Canada.

As confirmed by her lawyer Saif Ul Malook earlier this morning: After being freed from death row last year, the mother of five has arrived in Canada, on the heels of “repeated death threats from religious extremists in Pakistan, following the quashing of her conviction for blasphemy.”

Bibi had been separated from her family and was living in safe houses since her sentence was thrown out last year. (Bibi was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to death after she was accused of insulting the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a dispute with Muslim colleagues.) Her children are already in Canada, and she now joins them there.

It is encouraging to see Bibi finally released to a safe destination after her plight and quest for justice which lasted nearly ten years.

While this development is positive, it serves to highlight the continued threat to religious liberty posed by blasphemy laws.

Just last week, Family Research Council released a report on the status of apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-conversion laws (which threaten the ability to freely live out and choose or change one’s faith) around the world, and the threat they pose to religious freedom.

The most widespread of these types of laws, blasphemy laws prohibit insults to religion. Featured in many Muslim countries, these laws are often abused and used to settle unrelated disputes—this is exactly what Bibi claimed happened to her.

Even as we celebrate this victory, we must continue to monitor the status of these laws which inhibit the freedom of religious expression. 

UK Report: 80 Percent of World’s Persecuted Religious Believers Are Christian

by Arielle Del Turco

May 8, 2019

A new report out of the UK this week highlights the severity of anti-Christian persecution around the world. Commissioned by the Foreign Secretary, the report states that an overwhelming majority (estimated at 80 percent) of the world’s persecuted religious believers are Christians. It found that “evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity.”

The report features incidences of violent and social persecution committed against Christians by state and non-state actors. The trends presented are troubling.

In some African countries, such as in Mauritania, Islamic constitutions explicitly deny Christians their basic right to publicly express their religion. In South Asia, the growth of militant nationalism has been the main cause of Christian persecution. Furthermore, anti-conversion laws in South Asia explicitly prohibit people from converting to another religion, usually to protect the majority status of Hindu or Buddhist populations.

In East and Central Asia, authoritarian governments routinely discriminate against and intimidate Christians. Oppression experienced by Christians in several Asian countries is due to the influence Communist and nationalist ideologies have on their governments.

Even in Latin America, a largely Christian region, Christians have been “specifically targeted” for persecution from illegal organizations and paramilitary groups.

Yet, even in the face of these concerning developments, we have reasons to be hopeful. Some Middle East countries—such as the United Arab Emirates—are moving toward an openness to religious freedom. As evidence of this trend, the report cited the accord between the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed At-Tayyeb, and His Holiness Pope Francis in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year. At the signing, Dr. At-Tayyeb called on Muslims to protect Christian communities in the Middle East.

The Trump administration has played a part in the elevation of this issue on the global stage, having held the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department last July, with another planned for this year. Right now, the U.S. has other opportunities on the international stage to demonstrate the importance of religious freedom. As we continue to engage in trade negotiations with China, we have a pathway to pressure the Chinese government to cease its persecution of Uyghurs, along with its detention and harassment of Christians, theft of religious symbols, and destruction of churches.

The UK report also calls on the international community to take actions to protect Christians across the globe: “Given the scale of persecution of Christians today, indications that it is getting worse and that its impact involves the decimation of some of the faith group’s oldest and most enduring communities, the need for governments to give increasing priority and specific targeted support to this faith community is not only necessary but increasingly urgent.”

This much-needed attention on religious freedom comes on the heels of the release of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) report on the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom—which specifically highlighted the problems for religious freedom in China, Russia, and other oppressive states, in addition to the threat posed by cultural and legal opposition to religious freedom in much of the Islamic world. Just last week, Family Research Council released a report on the status of apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-conversion laws (which threaten the ability to choose or change one’s faith) around the world, and the threat they pose to religious freedom.

While it might be disheartening to learn about the hardships Christians face daily around the world, it is encouraging that this issue is starting to receive the national and international attention it deserves. If we do not remain informed, advocate for policies protecting Christian communities, and submit these things to God in prayer, nothing will change.

Arielle Del Turco is the Research Assistant for FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty.

Will Asia Bibi Be Forgotten?

by Arielle Del Turco

December 6, 2018

Last month, Christians around the world celebrated when Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian on death row for the crime of blasphemy, had her conviction set aside by the Pakistani Supreme Court. Bibi had been accused of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with several women after she shared a drink with them, thereby making the water ceremonially unclean. She was subsequently convicted, and spent the following eight years awaiting her execution.

Following Bibi’s release, thousands of Islamist Pakistanis demonstrated in the streets to demand she be put to death. Since her acquittal, Bibi has been held in protective custody in Pakistan due to threats of violence as she hopes to be granted asylum by a Western nation.

In a recent video message, Bibi’s husband pleaded with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, in addition to the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and U.S. President Donald Trump. The objective was to bring his family to the West to avoid the religiously motivated persecution they face in Pakistan.

Earlier this week, the Daily Mail reported that UK Prime Minister Theresa May personally intervened to prevent Bibi from receiving asylum in the UK, contradicting the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who has argued that the UK should provide Bibi refuge.

Asylum was made for cases like this. It’s to protect political and religious refugees who are facing persecution in their home country. So, why would the UK—which is usually so open to immigration—choose to deny entry to a Christian farmworker fleeing religious persecution?

The Daily Mail reported that Prime Minister Theresa May was persuaded that letting Bibi claim asylum would raise tensions within the Muslim community in the UK. May’s refusal to give Bibi refuge is devastating for Bibi and her family. It is a discouraging sign that the British government isn’t prioritizing religious freedom. Instead, the government is letting the fear of the mob dictate who earns the protection of the state and is validating the criticisms of politically-correct “multiculturalism.”

The UK first needs to embrace religious freedom at the cultural level so that religious refugees in crisis will be welcomed into the shelter of their country. This requires leaders who have the moral courage to stand up for religious freedom, even when a percentage of the population may oppose it.

The UK had an opportunity to make a stand for religious freedom and they chose not to. Thankfully, other nations have this same opportunity. As Bibi and her family continue to look for a safe place to live, we can pray that a Western country whose laws and culture still value religious freedom will grant her asylum and safe haven.

Arielle Del Turco is an intern at Family Research Council.

Alfie Evans and the Continued Influence of the Eugenics Movement

by Arielle Del Turco

May 17, 2018

After winning a legal battle to take a toddler off life support against the wishes of his parents, a children’s hospital in the U.K. denied oxygen and nutrition to a sick child in their care for over 24 hours. Twenty-three-month-old Alfie Evans defied the expectations of his doctors and survived for five days. He died on April 28th.

What could make a hospital so determined to watch a toddler die? They claimed in court that it was in Alfie’s “best interest.”

Alfie Evans had a degenerative neurological condition which doctors were unable to definitively diagnose. All that Alfie’s parents wanted was the chance to transfer the child to a hospital in Italy that was willing to treat him. They wanted to explore treatment options before giving up on their child. The U.K. courts refused to let that happen. This shows that the courts did not simply think that Alfie was incapable of surviving due to his condition. It exposes the fact that the government believes in its ability to make life and death pronouncements for those requiring medical treatment.

This assertion that living isn’t in the “best interest” of someone who is ill or disabled might sound familiar from history class.

The American eugenics movement in the Progressive Era (1890’s-1920’s) wanted to create a socially advanced society by better “breeding.” To achieve this genetically superior population, advocates of eugenics had a simple solution. It was to intervene in the family life of those lacking “usefulness”—people viewed as unable to contribute to society, economically or otherwise. Eugenics policies sought to eliminate these people from society through forced sterilizations and marriage restrictions to prevent procreation by those deemed “socially inadequate.”

Eugenicists were confident they could manage human evolution to produce a more intelligent and productive population. Today, medical advances are making it easier to discover and abort unborn children with disabilities and other “unwanted” traits. As a result, the same ethical questions that surrounded the American eugenics movement remain relevant today.

In pursuit of a more “perfect” society, the United States forcibly sterilized more than 60,000 Americans, mostly from 1907 to the early 1940’s, all to reduce the number of disabled or otherwise “undesirable” members of society.

The disabled were a primary target of eugenicists. It was argued that their lives were of no use to society or to themselves. That’s a lot like saying it’s not in the “best interest” of an ill toddler to explore treatment options, but to die instead.

This is the essence of the brutality of the eugenics mindset. Hospitals are places intended for healing and recovery. Yet, they weren’t places for disabled patients to receive that kind of treatment in the Progressive era. Instead, they were places where physicians targeted the vulnerable.

To prevent the vision of the eugenics movement from becoming a reality, we must make sure no group of people become our contemporary “socially inadequate” class.

It can be comforting to think about the evil of eugenics as a problem buried in the distant past. Western culture is more enlightened and tolerant now, right?

Alfie Evans’ situation demonstrates that the West is not immune to the hate and condescension toward human life that was present in the eugenics movement of the Progressive Era.

The way a society treats its most vulnerable members speaks to its moral health. The American eugenics movement sought to rid society of the weak. Our response to situations like Alfie’s should be to affirm that every life is worth living, and that the value of a life is not determined by the financial hardships or inconveniences it might cause.

The government should not and cannot determine when life is worth living or when death is in someone’s “best interest.” All people have dignity as image bearers of God, who has granted us the right to live out the life He gave us.

All persons deserve to be protected by our laws and accepted into our families. Neither the government nor physicians have the moral authority to say otherwise.

Ronald Reagan often quipped, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away.” Alfie’s case shows just how true this is. The U.K.’s state-run National Health Service is big enough to grant health care to the entire population. We’re now finding out it is also powerful enough to deny that health care when they see fit.

Governments that hold this type of power will inevitably abuse it. George Santayana’s maxim that “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” is dead right. Currently, the U.K.’s handling of Alfie Evans’ situation echoes the talking points of the eugenics movement. This should terrify us.

Arielle Del Turco graduated from Regent University in 2018.

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