Author archives: Arielle Del Turco

Religious Freedom Concerns in India Rise Amid Coronavirus Crisis

by Arielle Del Turco

April 21, 2020

During what was expected to be a normal worship service on the first Sunday in March, one pastor in India was dragged out of his church mid-service by a mob of Hindu nationalists, tied to a tree, and beaten for hours. The police arrived afterward, only to take Pastor Manju Keralli to the station and charge him with violating India’s blasphemy laws. Pastor Keralli recounted to International Christian Concern, “Even the police threatened me with foul language, saying that I don’t have right to live in this country as I am practicing foreign faith.

Pastor Keralli, like many other Christians and Muslims in India, is a victim of India’s growing Hindu nationalist movement, which asserts that India is a nation for Hindus only. This ideology inspires mob violence against religious minorities who already occupy a vulnerable place in society.

The coronavirus pandemic further exposes the cultural discrimination Christians and others endure in India. Reports have surfaced that government officials choose to send Christian nurses to tend to the most contagious patients. Reportedly, this selection is due to Christians often being viewed as “expendable.” While many Christians happily serve coronavirus patients, the fact that officials reportedly choose to send Christians to dangerous places before others shows that religious discrimination is alive and well.

India is still a developing country, and its societal problems are complex. However, as India is the second-largest population in the world whose global influence is growing, it is important to understand what is happening there and how it affects the most vulnerable.

Here are three facts you should know about the status of religious freedom in India.

1) Rising Hindu nationalism breeds intolerance against religious minorities.

Hindu nationalism has been on the rise in India. This movement claims that “to be Indian is to be Hindu.” This exclusionary narrative marginalizes religious minorities, including Christians and Muslims.

The concept of “Hindutva,” meaning “Hindu-ness,” has been around for about a century, and it was intended to forge a stronger Indian identity in the face of British colonialism. Yet, this idea lives on in contemporary Hindu nationalism, a movement which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader, the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has proven is politically palatable in India today.

Yet, Hindu nationalism is not just an ideological danger; it is a growing physical threat to religious minorities. Violent mobs inspired by these ideas often target Christians, and the attacks include brutal beatings and sexual assault against women. Since Modi and the BJP came to power in 2014, Open Doors reports that “incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequence.”

Muslims are also at risk of increased mob violence in India. Earlier this year, Muslim protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act widely deemed to be discriminatory against Muslims devolved into violence. U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said, “reports are mounting that the Delhi police have not intervened in violent attacks against Muslims, and the government is failing in its duty to protect its citizens.” The government’s failure to protect Muslims and Christians who are assaulted by Hindu mobs is a serious problem, and one that the government has an obligation to address.

2) The legal system does not always support religious minorities.

Religious minorities who are attacked by their fellow citizens via mob violence often do not find sympathy with authorities or in the court system. After mobs violently attack Christians in India, police or local officials sometimes compound the problem by allowing charges to be placed against the victims of attacks rather than the perpetrators.

On January 19, 2020, a group of Hindu nationalists interrupted the worship service of a small Christian congregation in Karnataka state. The Christians were harassed, threatened, and assaulted, leaving believers in the village afraid to leave their homes. Afterward, the congregants learned that their attackers had filed criminal charges against them. Such stories are all too common.

3) India still has anti-conversion laws.

In the world’s largest democracy, anti-conversion laws are still on the books in several states. These laws prohibit conversion from one religion to another. India’s laws mainly intend to discourage conversions away from the majority faith, Hinduism. Christians are intimidated from sharing their faith out of fear they will be accused of “false conversions.”

Draconian anti-conversion laws should not be on the books in any country that wants to be a global leader in the contemporary world. These laws are an affront to human rights because they restrict a fundamental element of religious freedom—the ability to change one’s faith.

India’s strict coronavirus lockdown has limited the number of physical attacks against Christians as the country follows social distancing measures, International Christian Concern reports. Yet, the overall trend indicates violence against Christians is on the rise in 2020.

As long as religious tensions continue to heighten, persecution is not going away in India. Even as religious freedom is declining, the Indian government is looking to secure a friendship with the United States. This presents U.S. leaders and advocates with an opportunity to encourage India to share one of our core values, religious freedom. For the sake of vulnerable religious minorities in India, let us pray that their government is receptive to that message.

COVID-19 Poses Yet Another Grave Threat to North Korea’s Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

April 14, 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continues to ramp up efforts to contain the coronavirus even as the regime claims the country has zero cases—a telltale sign that the virus has not left the world’s most secretive country untouched. Unfortunately, coronavirus in the so-called “hermit kingdom” may have particularly dangerous ramifications for the country’s Christians.

While many North Koreans are sure to suffer if coronavirus ravages the country, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback recently emphasized the unique threat posed to Christians. Brownback cited “individual reporting, the eyewitnesses of people that have gotten out and escaped North Korea” who testify to “the horrific conditions in those areas.”

Brownback called on the North Korean regime to release its prisoners of conscience—many of whom are Christians—in light of the risk that coronavirus poses to religious and other political prisoners held in filthy and densely populated prison camps.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also urged governments around the world to release prisoners wrongly detained for exercising their freedom of religion.

Christianity is illegal in North Korea, and even the smallest expression of faith will land believers in a brutal prison or forced labor camp. The worst of these camps are reserved for political prisoners, including Christians.

Open Doors estimates that at least 50,000 Christians are trapped in North Korea’s network of prison camps, and approximately 75 percent die in detention. Survivors detail horrific accounts of torture and brutality in the camps.

Last year, Family Research Council hosted an event that featured Ji Hyeon-a, a North Korean Christian who was beaten for her faith. When she was taken to a prison camp as punishment for attempting to escape North Korea, authorities forcibly aborted her preborn child in the cruelest way imaginable.

The living conditions of North Korean prisoners of conscience are deplorable. Detainees are reportedly locked in cages, routinely tortured, forced to perform hard labor, and endure starvation and unhygienic living situations. Should a highly contagious disease like the coronavirus make its way into the camps, the effects would be disastrous. Brownback is right to call for the release of North Korean political prisoners in light of COVID-19—as all Western countries should be calling for their release always.

Is Kim Jong-un, the stubborn and insecure dictator of the world’s most secretive country, likely to take the advice of a U.S. official to release prisoners of conscience? Almost certainly not.

However, North Korea is under heightened pressure, the likes of which it has never experienced before.

Like other parts of the world, the coronavirus will affect much more than North Korea’s shoddy health care system. The economic toll on this already cash-strapped country is likely to worsen. North Korean authorities closed its border with China, its main trading partner, putting a halt to legal and illegal trade. This alone has the potential to put pressure on the North Korean regime in ways Western sanctions failed to do.

The coronavirus crisis is putting an unexpected strain on countries around the world, and that has the potential to shift long-term regional dynamics and political structures—for good and ill.

As American Christians pray for our country and an end to the coronavirus, we can also be remembering persecuted believers in North Korea—that God would strengthen the faith of the persecuted, bring an end to the prison camps and tyrannical government of North Korea, and protect the hermit kingdom’s most vulnerable people.

China Uses Coronavirus to Oppress Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

March 2, 2020

Do you want to kill me? Just kill me.” This is the cry of one Uyghur man in Xinjiang, China, where the government has instituted a strict lockdown due to coronavirus concerns. Unable to help his starving family, the man begged for death in a recent viral video experts say is authentic.

One might have thought that things couldn’t get worse for the oppressed, mostly-Muslim, Uyghur minority concentrated in the northwestern Uyghur region. Yet, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) found a way to manipulate a health crisis and add to it a humanitarian crisis for the beleaguered Uyghur minority.

Local authorities began to impose a strict quarantine in parts of the region at the end of January, and reports suggest the locals were given no notice before the lockdown. Without advance warning or time to store food or other supplies, residents are still forbidden from leaving their homes. Now, they are running out of food and medical supplies.

One Uyghur woman anonymously described her family’s situation to Radio Free Asia, saying, “[The adults] are only eating one meal a day from morning to night” since the lockdown started. “Every morning, we just worry about the children having something to eat.” Without enough to eat, her eight-year-old daughter “became dizzy and passed out,” injuring her head when she fell.

This is just the latest in a long list of China’s abuses against Uyghurs. The Chinese government operates what it calls “Vocational Education and Training Centers” across the Xinjiang province, where an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are forcibly detained, mistreated, pressured to cease their religious practices, and indoctrinated with communist propaganda. 

Recently leaked internal Chinese government documents reveal that Uyghurs can be sent to these re-education camps for just about any reason—including following religious traditions, growing a beard, having too many kids, or owning a passport without having traveled.

Now, Uyghurs fear that breaking quarantine will get them immediately detained in a camp. Even those with serious health problems unrelated to coronavirus are too afraid to violate the quarantine and leave their house to seek medical care.

While the government might insist that the sudden and strict lockdown is meant to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has caused at least two deaths in the region, an effective medical response does not require creating a new humanitarian crisis of mass hunger among residents. The answer to the threat of a dangerous new virus cannot be to starve people under implicit house arrest.

In responding to this crisis, time is of the essence. The Uyghur Human Rights Project has called upon the Red Cross of China, the International Red Cross, and the Red Crescent to request access to the Uyghur region so that they can conduct investigations and provide basic humanitarian relief such as food and medicine to residents who have been trapped.

It’s clear the Chinese government will use any excuse it can to further oppress this small religious group. The U.S. should continue to criticize China’s abuses against Uyghurs and other religious minorities. It’s unacceptable that any country would treat its own people this way—and the Chinese Communist Party must be made to understand that.

The Atrocity of Forced Marriage in Pakistan

by Arielle Del Turco

February 20, 2020

A tragic situation has ended in the best possible way for one Pakistani Christian girl who had been kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and forced to marry a Muslim man in January. Fourteen-year-old Sneha has been recovered by authorities and reunited with her family, but not before enduring a traumatic abduction and being raped multiple times.

Sneha had refused the proposal of a Muslim man, who later kidnapped her with the help of six other men. The men beat her and forced her to sign blank sheets of paper on which they later forged a fake marriage certificate and certificate of conversion to Islam.

Sneha’s family continues to receive threats from the kidnappers, who pressured the parents to withdraw their legal case. In response, the family has moved to an undisclosed location for their own safety. 

Unfortunately, Sneha was lucky compared to the hundreds of other Christian and Hindu girls that are kidnapped and forced to marry Muslim men in Pakistan every year. Not all the girls who face this situation are rescued, and not all the families of these victims find sympathy with the authorities or in court.

Just a few weeks ago, a Pakistani court ruled against the family of another 14-year-old Christian girl, Huma Younus, who was taken from her home and forced to marry a Muslim man on October 10, 2019. The Sindh High Court in Karachi ruled on February 3, 2020 that the forced marriage of this underage girl wasn’t against the law.

Christians face widespread persecution and discrimination in Pakistan, and young Christian women are among those most harmed by it.  

In its 2019 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recognized that approximately “1,000 young women are forcibly converted to Islam each year; many are kidnapped, forcibly married, and subjected to rape.”

Pakistan’s culture and legal system create an environment that leaves religious minorities particularly vulnerable to abuse. Christian communities are among the poorest in Pakistan and are often geographically segregated from the larger Muslim population. Christians are often resigned to take menial jobs which carry heavy social stigmas in Pakistani culture. These factors leave Christians without many resources to stand up to discrimination and violence.

The stigmatization and marginalization of Christians has consequences in the legal system as well. When a case is brought before authorities, the courts are often reluctant to help Christian victims. USCIRF’s report noted that the Pakistani government “has not adequately prosecuted perpetrators of violent crimes against religious minorities.”

Furthermore, USCIRF reports that local police and political leaders in Pakistan are often accused of being complicit in forced marriage and conversion cases by refusing to investigate them. In some cases that are investigated by authorities, young women have been questioned in front of the very men who they were forced to marry, creating environments that intimidate women into lying for their abusers. Pakistan’s legal system has proven itself unwilling and unable to ensure justice is served for the perpetrators of these crimes, and that needs to be met with strong international criticism. 

Pakistan’s failure to enshrine religious freedom and protect its own religious minority groups leaves innocent girls and young women vulnerable to forced marriage and the unspeakable abuses that entails. The government’s unwillingness to bring those who perpetrate crimes against Christians to justice only compounds the problem.

These human rights abuses shouldn’t be met with silence from the rest of the world. The U.S. government should take every opportunity to pressure Pakistan to protect Christians and other religious minorities and bring the perpetrators of crimes against religious minorities to justice. Until real legal protections are enforced on behalf of everyone in Pakistan, including religious minorities, this issue will only get worse.

Entering the New Year, Religious Minorities Across the Globe Face an Uncertain Future

by Arielle Del Turco

December 30, 2019

A recent Washington Post article highlighted some of the concerning trends in international religious freedom in 2019.

Most prominent is the attack on religious freedom in China, which is especially apparent in the Uyghur crisis. Uyghurs are facing an extremely advanced and well-planned scheme of cultural genocide by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At least 1-2 million Uyghurs are detained in “re-education” camps intended to strip them of their unique religious and cultural identity. Over the last year, China has only dug their heels in to defend their actions in the Uyghur region.

But it’s not just Uyghurs. Those of all faiths are targeted by the Chinese regime. For CCP leaders, any claim to a higher authority—including God—is a threat to the rule of the Party, and one that must be eliminated or subdued.

The Post piece also featured anti-Christian violence in Sri Lanka. On Easter in 2019, almost 300 Christians were killed at church services in bombings across several cities. This tragedy was a result of a growing militant Buddhist nationalist movement. Christians in Sri Lanka are increasingly at risk of attack, and the world needs to become more aware of their plight.

A third religious freedom concern is the treatment of Muslims in India. The Hindu nationalist-led government has found numerous ways to antagonize this religious minority over the past year. The political party currently in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party, seeks to solidify India as a country for Hindus only—and this is a problem for all of India’s religious minorities, including Christians.

The Post article also points out the uncertain future of Turkish Christians. In a story that’s becoming disturbingly common in the Middle East, the percentage of the population that identifies as Christian in Turkey has dropped from almost 25 percent in 1914 to less than 0.5 percent today. This reflects similar trends across the Middle East as Christians flee persecution. The Middle East was the birthplace of Christianity, and the ancient Christian communities who have maintained a presence there for thousands of years are increasingly at risk.

If you’re wondering why it’s such a big deal to protect Christian communities in Northeast Syria and other parts of the Middle East—it’s because they’re disappearing from this region altogether.

Lastly, the article recognizes Burma—an area that also should not be forgotten. Burma is a Buddhist-majority country, and religious tensions spilled over when the Burmese military massacred thousands of Rohingya Muslims in 2017. Many Rohingya still live in refugee camps in Bangladesh and are vulnerable to human trafficking. The consequences of this event are still dire, and the victims are still hurting.

Going into 2020, all of these religious minority groups don’t know what the future holds. As Christians, we can pray for these people who have inherent worth and are made in the image of God. As people who care about the fundamental right to religious freedom for everyone, we can spend the next year advocating on behalf of these oppressed people.

For Some Christians Around the World, Celebrating Christmas is Dangerous

by Arielle Del Turco

December 24, 2019

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, many are forced to do so in secret. Arrest and punishment at the hands of the government or violence at the hands of extremist groups plague many around the world who simply try to celebrate the birth of their Savior.

In Iran, the government takes advantage of Christmas celebrations in their effort to crackdown on the spread of Christianity. Dabrina Tamraz has been a victim of religious persecution herself in Iran. She is reporting that authorities began to arrest Christians in the last few weeks. She says, “Christmas celebrations make it easier for Iranian authorities to arrest a group of Christians at one time.”

The Iranian government’s main targets are converts to Christianity from a Muslim background and evangelicals. The regime feels threated by Christians who would evangelize and share their faith. Christians who stay home might avoid being targeted by authorities, but any expressions of faith—including Christmas celebrations—can be dangerous.

Christians in India are also bracing themselves amid a new wave of persecution this December. According to International Christian Concern, at least 10 Christians were arrested on trumped-up criminal charges, clean drinking water was cut off for 25 Christian families, and several churches have been shut down just this month.

We have cancelled all our Christmas events in Banni Mardatti village, including carols, cottage meetings, and pre-Christmas events,” said Pastor Raja Bhovi from in India’s Karnataka State, “There is a fear of being attacked by Hindu radicals.” 

If last year is any indicator, these fears may be justified. Just before Christmas in 2018, a mob attacked a small church in India’s Maharashtra state, leaving many injured.            

Some countries go so far as to openly ban the celebration of Christmas. In Brunei, a small country on the island of Borneo, Christians found celebrating Christmas illegally could face a 5-year prison sentence, a $20,000 fine, or both.

Brunei instituted this policy in 2015, while its Ministry of Religious Affairs released a statement expressing concern that any public Christmas celebrations might “damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community.” 

In North Korea, those who celebrate Christmas can be imprisoned, tortured or put to death. North Korea is a communist country where the only gods allowed are the Kim family dictators. Christmas is not widely known, and certainly not celebrated publicly. Yet, the North Korean regime has seemingly tried to replace Christmas altogether. 

North Koreans are encouraged to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-Suk, the deceased grandmother of Kim Jong Un. Her birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve, is even marked by pilgrimages to the town of her birth. The empty substitute religion centered on the Kim family ultimately won’t satisfy the human soul. Open Doors USA estimates that there are approximately 300,000 Christians in North Korea—quite an accomplishment for the most closed country in the world. 

In countries across the world, any expression of the Christian faith leaves Christians vulnerable to arrest from the government or even attacks from their neighbors. Christians are often forced to either cancel their celebrations or gather in secret. Yet, the price for getting caught at such clandestine events can be costly.

As Christians in the West openly celebrate the Christmas season with friends and family, we should pause and pray for the Christians who will celebrate in secret. We can be thankful that Christ was born over 2,000 years ago to bring us the Gospel. And that hope is a light that no force of darkness can extinguish.

As Uyghurs Disappear in China, Officials Offer Scripted Excuses

by Arielle Del Turco

November 21, 2019

In what might first appear to be a progressive measure to help a religious and ethnic minority group, China sends the brightest Uyghur college students to universities across the country. But what happens when Beijing is simultaneously detaining the parents of these students to be brainwashed with communist propaganda? Well, the Chinese government has directives on how to handle uncomfortable conversations that ensue when Uyghur students return home and ask why their parents have disappeared.   

Following a historic leak of Chinese government documents, The New York Times released a document that instructed local officials on how to explain the forced disappearance of Uyghur students’ family members. Officials were encouraged to quickly meet with students to mollify concerns and ensure compliance with the policy. Their parents were merely “in a training school set up by the government to undergo collective systematic training, study and instruction.”

Students were to be comforted that they “have absolutely no need to worry.” Yet, they were also warned that their behavior would affect the length of their relatives’ detention.

When students inquired as to what crime their family members have committed, the officials were instructed to tell the truth. “They haven’t committed a crime and won’t be convicted.” Rather, officials were to try to sell students the narrative that the minds of their relatives had been “infected by unhealthy thoughts.” This is what China is trying to fix.

Though guilty of no crime, these students’ families had been caught up in China’s wide-scale campaign against religion. China currently detains at least 1.5 million Uyghurs, a mostly-Muslim Turkic ethnic group, in what it calls “concentrated education and training schools.” Others have preferred the term “concentration camps.” This program forces Uyghurs to adopt the language and beliefs preferred by the regime. The testimonies of detainees report daily Chinese Communist Party indoctrination sessions, torture, and sexual assault.

The leaked documents contain many references to “infections” and “viruses.” But religion is not a disease. And forcibly detaining members of a religious minority group who aren’t guilty of any crime is not a legitimate counter-terrorism effort, as China has repeatedly claimed.

Among the leaked documents are speeches by Chinese President Xi Jinping in which he directed officials to show “absolutely no mercy” when carrying out the party’s policies in Xinjiang.

However, the documents revealed that not everyone was quick to embrace China’s oppressive policies in Xinjiang. In 2017 alone, the party opened over 12,000 investigations into party members in Xinjiang for infractions in the “fight against separatism.”

In response to the leak, China’s foreign ministry said the report was “a clumsy patchwork of selective interpretation” that was “deaf and blind to the facts.” The Chinese government can complain about how their actions in Xinjiang are perceived all they want. The fact is that their own internal documents show exactly what their intentions are. Notably, the Chinese foreign ministry didn’t bother to deny the authenticity of these documents.

This news has prompted U.S. lawmakers to renew calls for the House of Representatives to pass the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which was passed in the Senate in September. Lawmakers are also calling for the imposition of Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against top Chinese officials responsible for abuses against Uyghurs. U.S. politicians should use the momentum fostered by The New York Times’ report to take these actions and others. China needs to hear loud and clear that their repression of Uyghurs and other religious groups will not be tolerated by the rest of the world. The evidence has never been more obvious. And the situation has never been more urgent.

Turkey Is Accused of War Crimes in Syria. Here Are Three Questions Trump Should Ask Erdogan.

by Arielle Del Turco

November 12, 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is headed to the White House to meet with President Trump on Wednesday, November 13. Members of Congress have objected to this meeting due to the ongoing Turkish incursion into Northeast Syria, which has taken a significant toll on civilians and religious minorities, including Christians. Erdogan’s arrival on Wednesday is expected to be greeted by protests. In 2017, a small group protesting Erdogan’s visit in D.C. was assaulted by members of Erdogan’s security detail who overran D.C. police. In response to this incident two years ago, Rep. Dan Crenshaw is leading a joint letter urging the State Department and D.C. police to ensure that Erdogan and his security detail “are aware of and understand that Americans enjoy First Amendment rights to assembly and speech.”

It’s a controversial decision to meet with Erdogan, yet this gives President Trump the perfect opportunity to confront the authoritarian leader and pressure him to cease his country’s ongoing abuses in Northeast Syria. There’s still time to set the agenda of the two leaders’ November 13 meeting. To that end, here are three questions President Trump should pressure Erdogan to answer.

1) How will you rein in the Syrian militias, which the Turkish military is currently using in the offensive into Northeast Syria and who have committed documented war crimes and other violations?

Turkish-backed militias are doing a lot of the dirty work in Turkey’s incursion into Northeast Syria. In the ongoing assault in Northeast Syria, Turkish-backed forces have executed Kurdish prisoners, ambushed and brutally killed a female Kurdish politician, and killed many unarmed civilians. Videos and photos have surfaced showing Turkish-backed militia members executing civilians by the roadside—and U.S. officials confirmed their authenticity.

Dave Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers is shocked by their actions. He called them “a wicked force unleashing terror. You know we’ve seen them mutilate girls, torture civilians, yell ‘Allah Akbar’ just like we saw ISIS do against us. So, I would say they’re a wicked scourge being used by Erdogan to torment the people here. And they’ve got to be stopped.”

These extremist groups are funded by and are under the command of the Turkish military. Their grotesque actions are beyond unacceptable. Turkey is a NATO ally; they shouldn’t be funding extremists to commit atrocities against civilians in a neighboring country. President Erdogan should be made to answer for the actions of these forces, and President Trump is well within his rights to demand that Erdogan rein in these militias.

2) What are you going to do to fulfill your promise to protect Christians and other religious minorities that have been harassed and victimized by Turkish-backed Syrian militias?

Christians and other religious minorities have been targeted for attack by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed forces. CBN News reported that Turkish-backed forces are marking Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” to label them as Christian for the purpose of confiscating their belongings, much like ISIS did.

Turkish bombardments have even appeared to target Christian sites and neighborhoods, including the largest Christian neighborhood in Qamishli, setting houses on fire and killing several civilians. Some Christians in Syria fear that the Turkish incursion will ultimately lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region as the situation becomes unlivable. This is especially disturbing, given that the region Turkey is attacking is led by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, where (up until a month ago) religious minorities were protected and given equal political rights—an anomaly in the Middle East.

A statement from the White House on October 9 claimed, “Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.” Turkey has clearly failed to deliver on this promise. Erdogan’s government assured the U.S. that they would protect Christians and religious minorities—President Trump can remind him of that.

3) How will you ensure further war crimes aren’t committed by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed forces?

Credible reports indicate that Turkey is guilty of war crimes committed within the last month. A statement from Amnesty International noted “damning evidence of war crimes” committed by Turkish forces in Syria. Kumi Naidoo of Amnesty International said, “Turkish military forces and their allies have displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives, launching unlawful deadly attacks in residential areas that have killed and injured civilians.” Dave Eubank also attests to war crimes committed by Turkish-backed forces. “Oh yes, killing prisoners, killing civilians, chasing people out of their homes, torture. Definitely.”

Evidence also suggests Turkish-backed forces have used munitions loaded with white phosphorus—a chemical that does enormous damage and can kill. Civilians, including children, appear to have been attacked by the chemical weapon. Kurdish General Mazloum has accused Turkey of ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people to later replace them with Arab Syrians in the region they invaded, changing the demography of the region.

Turkey needs to answer for its targeting of civilians. U.S. drone feeds appeared to show Turkish-backed Arab gunmen targeting civilians during the invasion of Northeast Syria. Rojava Information Center has reported that Turkish forces targeted civilians fleeing the invasion and bombed a hospital which had to be taken out of service due to Turkish shelling. Erdogan must be made to explain the many reports of civilian causalities, especially after he promised the U.S. that Turkey would protect civilians.

Ultimately, this meeting should not be a simple photo op that Erdogan can use to show that the United States affirms Turkish actions in Northeast Syria. Instead, this is a perfect opportunity for President Trump to press Erdogan on Turkey’s actions and hold Turkey accountable for ongoing atrocities in Syria.

Death Comes to Northeast Syria: The Human Cost of Trump’s Withdrawal of Forces

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M. , Arielle Del Turco

October 9, 2019

Smoke is billowing from a small town in northeast Syria hit by Turkish airstrikes today, and hundreds of civilians are fleeing, unsure of where they’re headed.

The worst fears of those living under the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria are becoming a reality after President Trump made the decision on Sunday to remove U.S. troops from the area. This decision followed a phone call with Turkish President Erdogan and paved the way for an unfolding Turkish military operation into Northeast Syria, which is controlled by the Kurds, who have been faithful U.S. allies.

Why is FRC, focused on our mission to advance faith, family, and freedom, weighing in on this situation far from home?

Because at risk is not just the massacre of our Kurdish allies, the potential resurgence of ISIS, the reputation of the United States, and another major conflict in the Middle East. Also at risk is the destruction of the one place in the Middle East (outside of Israel) where Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis live in peace and religious freedom thrives. Under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, religious minorities in Northeast Syria found protection and equal political rights—an anomaly in the Middle East.

Out of the midst of the Syrian civil war, hope sprang in the form of a federal government system that represents and protects segments of society which are often neglected and abused in the Middle East, including women and the Christian minority.

In addition to other religious minorities, Syriac Christians have found safety under the Kurdish-led administration. This is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, and they are trying to maintain a presence in the Middle East, the birthplace of the Christian faith. Syriac Christians still speak a dialect of Aramaic today, and Syriac Christian culture is experiencing a renaissance. As Turkish forces move into Northeast Syria, we shouldn’t expect that they will take care of this community. Even in the past few years, Turkey has allied itself with jihadist groups responsible for killing Christians elsewhere in Syria. With the present Turkish incursion, Christians in Northeast Syria face the potential of attack or displacement. It would be tragic to these Christians subjected to abuse or death as a result of Turkish actions, and it would also be tragic to see the loss of a historic Christian presence in this region.

The Kurdish forces that Turkey is attacking have been reliable allies to the Untied States. When the U.S. couldn’t find anyone else willing to fight ISIS, the SDF rose to the occasion, and lost approximately 11,000 fighters in the process. The Kurds feel betrayed by the U.S., and that feeling is understandable. They have been consistent allies, and we abandoned them overnight without warning. This won’t bode well for the next time the U.S. tries to recruit allies in the Middle East.

The successful religious freedom and pluralism found in Northeast Syria is something that we hope to see more of across the Middle East. To watch that newly-flourishing area ransacked by a Turkish authoritarian leader is disheartening. If the United States wants to see the prime example of religious freedom in the Middle East continue, it should continue to support our Kurdish allies.

It is difficult to watch these events unfold today. There have already been reports of civilian casualties, including Christians who were killed by the Turkish strikes.

As this situation develops, we need to be praying for the protection of the people of Northeast Syria, and that any attempted oppression or slaughter would be thwarted. We must also pray that God would give President Trump the wisdom to make the right decisions, and that he would ensure security for Syria’s Northeast.

Senate Condemns China’s Abuses Against Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

September 13, 2019

The Chinese regime’s gross human rights violations against Uyghurs were recognized by the U.S. Senate late Wednesday night with the passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. The measure couldn’t come at a more critical time as the Uyghur crisis continues to deteriorate. In what one U.S. official has called China’s “war on faith,” the Chinese government is responsible for a brutal crackdown on Uyghurs, a Turkic, mostly Muslim ethnic group.

China has used a variety of measures to suppress the Uyghur community. The government monitors social media, and arrests Uyghurs for information found on their phones, including simply having religious content on them. It is estimated that China has forcibly detained at least 880,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uyghurs who are detained in what China calls “re-education” camps. Uyghurs at these camps are indoctrinated with Chinese Communist Party propaganda designed to pressure them to abandon their Muslim faith and their unique culture. Some detainees who have been released describe their experience being tortured in the camps.

This bill is the first piece of legislation from any nation that specifically responds to the Uyghur crisis. The provisions of this act will require U.S. federal agencies and foreign policy institutions to report on the Uyghur crisis, and how it impacts U.S. citizens and national security. Formal and routine U.S. recognition of the horrors of China’s treatment of Uyghurs will send a powerful message to Beijing—that the U.S. will not ignore the atrocities taking place in the Uyghur region, and that we will continue to highlight Chinese human rights violations on the world stage.

The Chinese government is already getting the message. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded yesterday to this bill passing in the Senate. Spokesperson Hua Chunying expressed China’s opposition to the passage of this bill and to U.S. criticisms of China’s Xinjiang policies. Though she accused the U.S. of misrepresenting the human rights situation in China, we know that Chinese leaders have a long track record of lying about their actions in the Uyghur region. Regardless of the spin from Chinese officials, their hostile response indicates that they have already felt pressure from this bill, which means it has done exactly what it was meant to do.

While the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act has passed the Senate, its companion bill in the House of Representatives is still in committee. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) demonstrated great leadership in getting this bill passed in the Senate. In the House, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) is leading the charge on this bill. As we commend the Senate’s action on this issue, the House should take note and work to swiftly pass the House version of this bill. It is vital that Congress take this step to hold China accountable for their egregious human rights abuses.

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