Category archives: Religious Liberty

State Department’s New Commission Set to Expose Human Rights Abusers

by Arielle Del Turco

July 10, 2019

July 9th marked the four-year anniversary of the launch of a campaign by Chinese officials to crack down on human rights lawyers. Many of these lawyers were arrested, given prison sentences, and tortured behind bars. This tragedy is now referred to as the “709 Incident” because it began on July 9, 2015. Since this date, China has continued to persecute human rights lawyers and activists.

The Chinese government’s crackdown on anyone brave enough to advocate for human rights in China is especially disgusting given that China currently sits on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council.

The fact that shameless human rights abusers can participate in the UN Human Rights Council brings to light an issue that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is trying to address.

On July 7th, Pompeo announced the launch of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. This new panel of scholars, legal experts, and advocates are tasked with reorienting the definition of “human rights” to one that our country’s Founders and the signers of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights would recognize.

Political activists over the past several decades have slowly eroded the proper understanding of human rights from being centered around life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to a catch-all phrase that encompasses everything from abortion to free college tuition.

The confusion over human rights is especially evident in international affairs. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council has shamelessly ignored obvious human rights violations around the world—all while some of the worst violators of human rights claim membership on the council. It’s clear that international institutions tasked with addressing human rights concerns have lost focus on their mission. The Commission on Unalienable Rights is looking to change that.

The commission, which will provide advice, not policy, will take a step back and consider the source and substance of what the Declaration of Independence labeled our “unalienable rights.” Informed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and U.S. founding documents, the commission is intended to provide insight on how we can better define and protect essential human rights.

Pompeo argues that oppressive regimes have abused the term “human rights” and acted as if they were champions of this cause. We can no longer let brutal regimes get away with hiding their heinous actions as they hijack the legitimate and necessary terminology of “human rights.” There must be a universal standard of basic human rights so that countries can be held accountable for violating the fundamental rights of their people. We can hope that this new commission will provide the clarity that is so desperately needed to effectively advocate for those most basic rights which all people are entitled to, but far too many people around the world are denied.

Dilshat Perhat Ataman: A Prisoner of Conscience in China

by Arielle Del Turco

July 3, 2019

As the United States and China continue to discuss trade, we have a unique opportunity to raise religious freedom concerns such as that country’s ongoing detention of Christian pastors and mass repression of Uyghur Muslims. It is therefore encouraging to see Family Research Council President and chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Tony Perkins announce yesterday that he was formally adopting Dilshat Perhat Ataman as a prisoner of conscience to highlight his case of unjust imprisonment due to his faith.

Dilshat is a Uyghur Muslim currently detained in a “re-education” internment camp in China’s Xinjiang province.

Dilshat founded and managed a popular website called “Diyarim,” which promoted Uyghur history and culture and provided a social media platform to the Uyghur community. In 2009, he was arrested by Chinese authorities and charged with “endangering state security” after a comment was posted in a chatroom on his website about the Chinese government’s suppression of Uyghur protests.

After serving five years in prison, Dilshat was released in 2014. Yet, his freedom was short-lived. In June 2018, he was rearrested without reason from the Chinese authorities—this time he was taken to a “re-education” internment camp.

Those who have been released from these camps describe how Uyghurs are tortured during interrogation, live in crowded cells, and are subjected to extensive daily regimens of Chinese Communist Party indoctrination (as seen in this BBC report). Detainees routinely face harsh treatment and are forced to live in unhygienic conditions, sometimes leading to their death. 

The Chinese government has invested a lot of resources to surveil and suppress Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group who are mostly Muslim. Yet, it is not a contradiction to say that Christians must care about the suffering they face due to their religious beliefs and advocate on their behalf.  

Christians believe that God is in control of human affairs yet gives people the freedom to choose their beliefs. Just as God gives people that freedom, we should defend the freedom of others to choose and live out their religious convictions without any government harassing, oppressing, imprisoning, or killing people for expressing their basic right to religious freedom.

What the Chinese government is doing to the Uyghurs is evil—and that should be something everyone is concerned about.

Dilshat is one of at least 880,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uyghurs who are detained in Chinese “re-education” internment camps.

The injustice of China’s detention of Dilshat Perhat Ataman in a “re-education” camp is obvious. Hopefully, by bringing Dilshat’s case to light, there will be a greater awareness of the plight of Uyghur Muslims who are targeted for persecution because the Chinese government views their religious beliefs as a threat to the political ideology and authority of the Communist Party.

Lemon v. The Constitution

by Nicolas Reynolds

July 1, 2019

Conservatives breathed a refreshing sigh of relief upon hearing the Supreme Court’s ruling to protect the Bladensburg cross-shaped memorial last month in American Legion v. American Humanist Association. In defending the memorial, the Court not only resolved this case’s controversy but helped shed light on religion’s place in the public square entirely. This case may prove to be a greater victory than many suppose as it looks towards the original intentions of our Founding Fathers, measuring the memorial’s legality with the Constitution rather than tests the Court has conjured up in the past.

Though the Court has had to determine how the Constitution is to be interpreted, some of the ways chosen to do so have greatly deviated from the Constitution’s plain original meaning. One of the worst interpretations of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause—the Lemon testhas played a significant role in the Court’s decisions since Lemon v. Kurtzman was decided in 1971. The Lemon test instated a three-pronged set of requirements intended to drive a wedge between Church and State—something that the Establishment Clause never envisioned, supported, or made accommodations for.

Though the Lemon test has daunted cases of religious freedom for decades, the Court’s decision to protect the Bladensburg cross-shaped memorial gives one hope for a future full reversal of Lemon. Having produced a strong 7-2 ruling in favor of the memorial, the Court once again highlighted the futility of the test. Even though the Court did not throw out Lemon entirely, their ruling greatly crippled the test, increasingly marginalizing it and making clear it is simply unhelpful. In his concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh highlighted its obvious flaws and increasing uselessness, as he surveyed the Court’s Establishment Clause cases to show that Lemon has not been applied in many of them.

Kavanaugh pointed out Lemon’s grave flaws by showing that many normal religious practices would be prohibited by the test. As Lemon doesn’t allow the government to act in any way that could advance or endorse religion, any form of government-granted religious accommodations and exemptions—practices that have always been fundamental within the United States—would be entirely forbidden. Kavanaugh lays out that many religious practices intertwined with daily life “’by definition’ have the effect of advancing or endorsing religion to some extent.”

Along with other justices, Justice Kavanaugh urges that a test as hostile towards religious imagery as the Lemon test is dangerously unconstitutional and should hold no place within our judicial system. Kavanaugh concurred, “The Court’s decision in this case [The American Legion v. American Humanist Association] again makes clear that the Lemon test does not apply to the Establishment Clause…”

Rather than choosing to interpret the cross as a secular symbol, Kavanaugh drives home the significance of preserving religious imagery in the public square, stating, “I fully understand the deeply religious nature of the cross. It would demean both believers and nonbelievers to say that the cross is not religious, or not all that religious.” Kavanaugh summarized and solidified the cross’s validity, choosing to understand it for what it is—the universally chosen icon to represent Christ’s death and sacrifice on Calvary.

Justice Kavanaugh, along with others, shed light on the clear truth that it is impossible to separate religion from the public square, being that the public square is comprised of religious individuals. For those that prize religious freedom as a core principle of this country, the Bladensburg memorial stands as a testimony to the Constitution’s provisions for religious freedom. This case helps illuminate how religion is not only inseparable from but also necessary for public life to flourish, something that FRC’s amicus brief highlights. In a culture that appears to be continuously straying from biblical values, it is comforting for Supreme Court Justices to stand on and for the truths that this country was founded upon.

Nicolas Reynolds is an intern at Family Research Council.

The Fight to Defend Faith-Based Adoption Providers

by Nicolas Reynolds

June 28, 2019

Recently, faith-based adoption and foster care agencies have been the target of many discriminatory acts made by state and local governments.

Far from the Founding Fathers’ original intent, the ability to help others through foster care and adoption is now contingent on the feelings of LGBT activists in some states and localities. This is just the latest example of a disturbing trend—if the convictions of one’s religion encroaches on someone else’s comfort, ego, or ideology, they are demonized and declared to be a manifestation of hatred.

Increasingly, care provided by faith-based adoption agencies is only permitted on the condition that these agencies’ beliefs do not offend the LGBT movement, conditions that threaten their ability to serve children who are in desperate need of fundamental nurturing. Governmental discriminatory actions have been taken against faith-based agencies in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.

In Philadelphia, actions were taken in March of 2018 to end the referral contract the city had with Catholic Social Services (CSS) even though they are one of the city’s largest foster care agencies (there are 30 total), working every day to place at-risk and special needs children in supportive homes. According to CSS, the agency serves 120 children in foster care and supervises 100 foster homes on a daily basis. In 2017 alone, they worked with over 2,200 children. Following the city’s ending of its referral contract with CSS, a “foster parent of the year” award winner’s home was emptied and siblings were nearly kept apart despite the city’s urgent call for hundreds of new foster homes. Even though CSS has been placing children in foster care for over a century, it appears they have lost the opportunity seemingly overnight.

Situations like Philadelphia will only escalate all governmental discriminatory actions towards religious organizations. Actions like these open the door to far more severe discriminatory actions to be taken against Christian organizations, which will adversely affect their ability to care for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). As recently as December of last year, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services issued an ultimatum to faith-based adoption agency New Hope, forcing them to either violate their beliefs (that a child needs both a mother and a father) or close their doors. New Hope would likely no longer be able to provide children with homes.

In response to the clear governmental discriminatory actions taken against faith-based adoption agencies, legislators such as Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) are introducing legislation to protect religious liberty. They have introduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2019 (CWPIA) (H.R. 897 / S. 274), a piece of legislation which would allow organizations such as CSS and New Hope to continue helping those in need without threat of foreclosure from the government.  

Rep. Kelly echoes the plea to preserve the ability of Christians to care for children who are desperately in need of nurturing that only a family can give:

Faith-based adoption and foster care providers have historically played an unrivaled role in caring for our country’s most vulnerable kids… They are the very providers that we should be encouraging and promoting, not punishing.

Concurring, Rep. Enzi adds:

The government should not be in the business of forcing faith-based child welfare providers to abandon their sincerely held religious beliefs, especially at the expense of finding a new home for a child in need.

Additionally, laws similar to the CWPIA have been passed in Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia—most recently in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Discriminatory actions taken against faith-based adoption and foster care agencies are attacks on the biblical definition of the family, the most fundamental establishment in society. These attacks show a disregard for the Judeo-Christian principles which are uniquely imparted through the family. Lawmakers must provide more security to Christian organizations that wish to place children in homes that will sacrifice for, care for, and nurture children in need of a forever-family. 

Since the family is the cornerstone of a moral and flourishing society, it should be regarded and defended with the utmost care. This includes ensuring that the best possible services are provided for children who are not privileged to have a biological family. If governmental discrimination causes families to fall short, society’s moral standards too will fall short. The American people must stand up for the rights of faith-based organizations to continue providing the care that children need. No longer should Christians be targeted by governmental discriminatory actions for their efforts to care for “the least of these.”

Nicolas Reynolds is an intern at Family Research Council.

Do No Harm Act” Threatens Our First Freedom

by Luke Isbell , Mary Beth Waddell

June 27, 2019

Yesterday, the House Committee of Education and Labor held a hearing on the Do No Harm Act. While this bill purports to prevent harm, it would actually significantly harm religious believers by gutting our most prominent religious liberty statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Pitched as an act that would prevent abuse of religious freedom, and “restore” RFRA’s “original intent,” the bill would actually treat religious believers differently based on the circumstances of their claim and dictate when RFRA can be applied. Instead of all individuals having access to RFRA as a defense against a government burden on their First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion, the Do No Harm Act explicitly excludes some individuals from RFRA’s protections.

A Threat to a Fair Hearing

At the hearing, Representative Mike Johnson (R-La.), a constitutional lawyer with nearly 20 years of experience working on religious freedom, testified how religious freedom is “often referred to as our first freedom.” The Founders of the United States recognized that everyone should be able to live their lives according to their deeply held beliefs, and never be forced by the government to act in a way contrary to their beliefs. The protection and flourishing of religious liberty was understood to be so vital to the foundation of our nation that it was written as the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law establishing religion OR prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As apparent from this hearing, those on the Left seem to misunderstand the meaning of this constitutional right and the protections that flow from it.

The sentiments expressed by Rep. Johnson used to be understood by both sides of the aisle, a point that he made at this week’s hearing. They certainly were back in 1993 when RFRA was passed unanimously by the House, 97-3 by the Senate, and then signed into law by President Bill Clinton. RFRA promises that a fair hearing will be given to all individuals whose religious freedom has been infringed by the government. That’s it. It does not favor any one ideology over the other or predetermine an outcome. As Matthew Sharp, Senior Counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, testified at the hearing, even when RFRA is used the government often wins.

Disagreement is Not Discrimination

Many proponents of the Do No Harm Act claim it is necessary because discrimination is happening in the name of religious liberty under RFRA. However, there is a big gap between acting on personal convictions and discriminating, or forcing others to believe the same as you. Disagreement is not discrimination. RFRA does not allow individuals to force others to believe the same as them. That is not religious freedom, and RFRA does not protect it.

The Do No Harm Act would be the cause of harm and discrimination, not the alleviator of it. The Little Sisters of the Poor used RFRA in their fight against the government trying to force them to provide contraceptives, but they would no longer be able to bring a RFRA claim under the Do No Harm Act.

The Displacement of Children in Need

A few Democrats made a fuss about the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) using RFRA to grant Miracle Hill Ministries, a faith-based adoption and foster care agency in South Carolina, a waiver from Obama-era regulations still in effect that would force them to violate their conscience or stop serving children in need. Democrats bemoaned the granting of this waiver in the hearing and claimed that such waivers are harmful to the children in need of loving homes.

In fact, the opposite is true. When Catholic Charities was shut down in Illinois, nearly 3,000 children were displaced. When Philadelphia cut its contracts with two of their 30 partner agencies because they were faith-based, foster parents (one of whom was a “foster parent of the year”) were left with empty homes and siblings faced the possibility of not being placed together. Ironically, all this occurred after the city put out an urgent call for hundreds of new foster homes. Birth moms have also expressed their desire to use faith-based agencies to help them navigate the darkest time in their life and to place their child in a home of a particular faith. They deserve that option, but would see it shut down if proponents of the Do No Harm Act get their way.

In Michigan, St. Vincent Catholic Charities is one of the most successful adoption agencies in the state, performing 90 percent better than the other agencies in its area. However, when Michigan attempted to cut ties with the religious organization (which would have severe negative impacts as noted above), the organization was able to team with Becket Law to argue that their rights were being violated. Discovery in the case found that they were clearly being targeted because they were faith-based. Children in their care had been adopted by couples identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) through other agencies in the state. The same-sex couple who sued also lived closer to three or four other agencies they could have worked with. Yet the Do No Harm Act would strip Catholic Charities of the ability to even have their claim heard. This case is ongoing.

A Threat to the Foundation of Peaceful Co-existence

Religious liberty and non-discrimination are not at odds—rather, they promote each other by allowing people to freely act on the values that are most important to them.

Religious freedom was a founding principle of our nation, and it led to the ability for people of all faiths to live together peacefully—because the government never forced them to act against their personal beliefs. RFRA is the door that ensures people will always have recourse in court if the government violates this freedom, yet the Do No Harm Act would shut that door to many.

Mary Beth Waddell is the Senior Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council. Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

3 Religious Freedom Cases to Keep an Eye On

by Luke Isbell

June 21, 2019

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a cross-shaped memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland does not violate the Establishment Clause. The memorial honors veterans that sacrificed themselves to defend our nation, and the ruling by SCOTUS sets a new precedent for the constitutionality of religious memorials across the nation. This is a huge win for the right to religious freedom in the public sphere, but there are several other critical battles still being fought on the issue of religious freedom.

Free expression of personal beliefs in public and at work is the cornerstone of our pluralistic society, government, and free market. At Family Research Council, we actively track attacks on religious freedom in our Hostility to Religion Report, which we will be updating soon. Here are three important ongoing court cases that you need to be aware of:

1. Oregon Family Threatened and Sued for Refusing to Bake a Cake for a Same-Sex Union

Melissa and Aaron Klein owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery located in Gresham, Oregon. When they declined to bake a cake for a same-sex union, they quickly became a target of a lawsuit. The same-sex couple that requested the cake filed a complaint against the Kleins with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). When BOLI ruled against the Kleins, stating that they discriminated against the couple by not baking a cake, the Kleins were forced to pay $135,000 and closed their shop in September of 2013. Significant public backlash caused the Kleins to be fearful of their safety, especially after receiving threats against their children. The family refused to back down from fighting for their religious beliefs, and they appealed the case to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2016, but the court declined to hear the case. On June 17, 2019, after appealing to the Supreme Court, SCOTUS remanded the case back to the lower Oregon courts—advising them to reconsider the case in light of the decision made in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

2. Church Sues Against Washington State Requirement to Cover Cost of Abortions

In March of this year, Washington state passed legislation that would force any insurance plan that covers maternity costs to also cover abortions. Horrified of being forced to support something directly opposed to their pro-life beliefs, Cedar Park Assembly of God filed a suit against the state’s new law. Cedar Park Assembly actively serves in pregnancy centers and assists with foster children and infertile couples, and the church’s pro-life views are directly opposed to providing staffers with insurance that would pay for abortions. No church or organization that firmly and actively believes in the right to life should be forced to pay for abortions. Cedar Park Assembly of God has partnered with Alliance Defending Freedom to challenge the unconstitutional law in court. 

3. Michigan Attempts to Discriminate Against Faith-Based Adoption and Foster Agencies

For 70 years, St. Vincent has provided foster and adoption care for thousands of children in need in Michigan—and they have made a huge impact. In 2017 alone, St. Vincent performed better than 90 percent of agencies in its area with finding children a loving home. However, the Attorney General of Michigan announced in March of 2019 that they were going to permanently end the state’s relationship with faith-based adoption and foster care agencies. The policy claims to be an attempt to “protect” same-sex couples that would be refused from adopting from a faith-based organization, but St. Vincent has always referred same-sex couples to other adoption agencies when approached. Ultimately, not only would the state refusing to work with organizations like St. Vincent further worsen the chances of children finding the homes they desperately need, but such a policy is in clear contradiction to religious liberty that is integral to life in the United States. On April 15, 2019, St. Vincent partnered with Becket Law to sue against Michigan’s damaging policy.

These three cases exemplify the attacks on religious liberty that are becoming increasingly frequent. The right to freedom of conscience—the ability to not be forced to do something that is against your religious beliefs—fundamentally defined the founding of our nation. Religious liberty fosters the ideological plurality that allows people of all faiths to find solidarity in the United States, and the pluralism that religious liberty creates forms the groundwork for our society.

Tragically, in the name of “non-discrimination,” these fundamental rights are now being strategically stripped away. Ironically, policies intending to be non-discriminatory can be the most discriminatory policies of all.

If laws are passed to prevent people from living and working according their personal religious beliefs, the only result will be discrimination against all in favor of none.

Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

While the World Closes Its Eyes, a Genocide Against Christians is Happening in Nigeria

by Luke Isbell

June 17, 2019

I attended an event at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday, June 11, where Nigerian witnesses spoke about their first-hand experiences with Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. You can watch the full hearing here

I was sitting about ten feet away from witness Rebecca Sharibu as she walked to the podium. Boko Haram, a radical jihadist organization in northern Nigeria, kidnapped Rebecca Sharibu’s daughter over a year and a half ago, and she was never returned. Rebecca could barely start before becoming overwhelmed with tears. The room fell silent as the mother struggled to make a simple plea, “Help me bring my daughter back. I need my daughter.”

Rebecca’s daughter, Leah Sharibu, was 14 years old when she and 110 of her classmates were kidnapped from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in February of last year. Two months after they were kidnapped, 110 of the girls returned to their families. Yet, because Leah is a Christian and refused to convert to Islam, Boko Haram singled her out to be kept as a slave.

Boko Haram’s stated goal is to eradicate Christianity, and the militant group has killed tens of thousands of Christians and civilians since 2009. Frank Wolf, author of the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act, stated that more people have died at the hands of Boko Haram than ISIS. “Boko Haram is guilty of genocide,” Wolf forcefully insisted.

But Boko Haram is no longer the only terrorist threat to Christians in Nigeria. Semi-nomadic Islamic herdsman known as the Fulani armed with AK-47s frequently attack communities, burn homes, and inhumanly maim their victims. Mercy Maisamari, a witness at the event, described how Fulani would mock their Christian victims and taunt, “Call your Jesus to come and save you.”

Another thing [the Fulani] do is to cut limbs and they cut open pregnant women and remove the babies and cut them. And they try their best for the woman not to die,” she said.

The words of Alheri Magaji rattled in my ears as I listened to the horrors she relayed to the audience. She recounted the story of a mother of four children who was nine months pregnant. In the middle of the night, 400 Fulani militants rushed her village, and some of the men entered her home. In front of her eyes, they executed three of her children. They repeatedly kicked her stomach. When she awoke in a hospital, she was told that her unborn child had not survived. 

Nobody will take our story,” Magaji said. “We paid people, no one will take our story…so we’re here to beg you—to beg the U.S. government to take our story.”

The five Nigerian witnesses described how the world is incorrectly framing the ongoing genocide in their country. To Western governments, the Fulani attacks are simple ethnic struggles “between farmers and herdsman.” And Boko Haram only terrorizes Nigeria and other small African countries—why should the world leaders and Christians around the globe care?

Here are three reasons:

1. Praying and advocating for persecuted believers is not optional for Christians.

The body of Christ is wounded, and that affects all Christians. Our fight is against spiritual forces, and we must band together to protect the church wherever it is attacked—otherwise we compromise the present ground we stand on. It’s a simple remedy: speak boldly at church about those who are persecuted, tell your friends, and pray with your family. God’s heart breaks for His children—let ours break also.

2. The United States plays a key role in promoting religious liberty across the globe, so our stance on foreign policy is critical.

The United States advocates for religious freedom around the globe, but there is a desperate need for more advocates speaking on behalf of the voiceless. Whether with the Uyghurs in China, the violence in India, or the persecuted in Nigeria, people of all faiths across the world live under dire circumstances. While praying for the present and long term, let us respond vocally and through voting—sending the message that Christians require their political leaders to support religious liberty.

3. Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria are genocide, and world’s governments are turning a blind eye.

Boko Haram actively kills, tortures, destroys villages, and kidnaps Christians in Nigeria with the intention of wiping out the Christians in Nigeria. This meets the definition of genocide established in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

We have a museum not very far from here saying never again,” said Frank Wolf, referring to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Yet, genocide is taking place in Nigeria. Tens of thousands have already perished because of Boko Haram’s systematic strategy to eliminate Christians.

Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi closed the event with one final plea:

I can’t find any other country that will stand up for justice. That will stand up for the way you have always stood up for the oppressed. Please, please don’t disappoint the people of Nigeria. Please don’t disappoint the people of West Africa. Please don’t disappoint the people of Africa. And, please—don’t disappoint yourselves.”

Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

A Survivor of China’s “Re-education” Camps Exposes Atrocities in Xinjiang

by Arielle Del Turco

June 12, 2019

Mihrigul Tursun is a survivor of a “re-education” internment camp in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

It’s incredibly rare to hear from a survivor of one of the camps. Detainees are rarely released. And when they are, they are closely monitored and intimidated by the Chinese government.

The camps appear to be designed to force Uyghur Muslims—an ethnic and religious minority residing in northwest China—to adopt the norms, language, and non-religious tendencies preferred by the Chinese Communist Party. Detainees are subjected to daily communist party indoctrination sessions, inhumane living conditions, and torture. It is estimated that China currently detains at least one million Uyghurs in these facilities.

A Uyghur Muslim originally from Xinjiang, Mihrigul was living in Egypt with her husband following her education. When she had triplets in 2015, she took her babies back to China so that her parents could help her care for them.

When she arrived at the airport in Xinjiang with her two-month-old triplets, Chinese authorities seized her children from her while she was questioned and beaten. Authorities then took her directly to prison where she was held without any idea if or when she might be released.

Following her release from prison two months later, she rushed to pick up her children from the hospital where the authorities had kept them. Upon her arrival, she was informed that operations had been performed on all three of her children. A day later, it resulted in the death of one of her sons. Despite her pleas, she was denied the request to see her son.

Mihrigul was again taken into custody—this time to a “reeducation” camp. There, Chinese authorities repeatedly tortured her. They put a metal device on her head which transmitted electric shocks sending a searing pain which could be felt even in her veins and bones. The pain was so great she begged the guards to kill her—convinced that death would be better than enduring more torture.

She was placed in Cell 210, a small room that held 68 women. One woman in the cell hadn’t been allowed to leave the room in 13 months—not even to shower. Occasionally, women were taken from the cell and never heard of again.

Mihrigul witnessed nine women die in the cell due to the brutal conditions of the camp over the course of her detention. When the police came to remove a body of the deceased, all the women were instructed to lie down on the floor. The police didn’t enter the room to pick up the body. Rather, they used a metal contraption to pick the body up by the neck and drag it out of the cell, as if trash was being picked up off the ground.

At one point, Mihrigul was sentenced to death and the police asked her how she wanted to die.

Thankfully, Mihrigul was released in April 2018 after having been detained for 10 months in total, and she was allowed to return to Egypt to seek medical treatment for her two remaining children who had Egyptian citizenship.

Even today, the nightmare hasn’t ended for Mihrigul. She can’t sleep at night. The images of the nine women who died keep coming to her mind. In her dreams, Chinese authorities want to kill her.

As I write this now, Mihrigul is living in the United States and speaking out on this issue, though recounting these memories is difficult for her. I had the opportunity to hear her tell her story at a conference held by the World Uyghur Congress in Washington, D.C. last week.

It was sobering to hear this testimony. The room was in tears over Mihrigul’s story. Over 1,500 Uyghurs reside in the Washington, D.C. area, and many of them have family members in China who have disappeared and are thought to be in “re-education” camps. Mihrigul’s testimony points to a terrifying possibility of what might be happening to their own family members in China.

China continues to shamelessly deny the true nature of these camps. Chinese leaders try to sell the narrative that these camps are merely “free vocational training” centers. One Chinese leader claimed the camps are “the same as boarding schools.”

Yet, the lies of Chinese government officials will not shelter them from the truth and their false narratives will not absolve them of their human rights violations.

There is ample evidence to prove what is really going on in Xinjiang. Satellite images, Chinese government budget reports, and witness testimonies such as Mihrigul’s reveal the truth of China’s brutal oppression of religious minorities.

The Western world cannot continue to treat China just like any other nation. The blatant lack of respect for human life and freedom is something that can’t be ignored.

The Trump administration has prioritized religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy—that’s something that needs to be taken seriously. The U.S. government must make it clear that there are diplomatic and economic consequences for China’s crackdown on religious minorities.

Americans benefit immensely from the religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution. In contrast, the Chinese government views the beliefs of religious minorities as a threat to the ideology of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Thus, China sends Uyghur Muslims to “re-education” camps to be indoctrinated and tortured and arrests Christians for attending unapproved house churches. As Christians in the United States take notice of the victims of religious freedom violations around the world, such as Uyghur Muslims, we must advocate on their behalf.

Powerful Testimony from a Christian Survivor of North Korea

by Family Research Council

June 7, 2019

The following is a transcript of testimony (at 57:00) given by Ji Hyeona at the Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum on May 31, 2019. It was translated by Professor Hyun Song.

My name is Hyeona Ji, and I escaped North Korea to seek my God-given freedom and I now have become a devout Christian living in South Korea.

[…]

In North Korea, a country ranked #1 for 18 years as the worst persecutor of Christians, the very idea of freedom and human rights is foreign. I never heard of or used those words while in North Korea, and they do not fit the North Korean society.

In North Korea, faith means being loyal to the Kim family dictatorship.

I first came across the Bible in North Korea. My mother went to China to find food during the difficult period in North Korea and brought back a small Bible which I read every day.

One day I was called to the local Ministry of State Security… and there, I was tortured and beaten for reasons unknown. I was then asked, did I come into contact with any South Korean intelligence agents? I said I didn’t know what you’re talking about, and that’s when the agent placed my Bible on his desk. He told me to explain what this is all about. At that moment, I felt my heart stop.

Because in North Korea, if you believe in any other God or gods besides the Kim Il-sung and the Kim family dictators, you would be sent to a political prison camp or executed. I knew I had to be quick-thinking, so I said I found it while I was walking around and I wanted to turn it in but I didn’t have time.

So, I lied. I had to lie because that was the only way I could survive and get out of that situation. The security agent told me he would check on this and he repeatedly told me if I did this again that he would not forgive me. He put fear in me and then released me.

I found out later that my best friend actually turned in the Bible and reported me to the authorities.

So, having faith in North Korea—where everyone monitored each other and surveilled each other—having faith was an impossible thing to do.

I escaped four times from North Korea, and I was repatriated by the Chinese authorities three times. During this process of escape and repatriation, I was sent to Prison Camp #11 – Labor Reform Prison Camp. And there, I was forced to do slave-like labor, and I saw so many people die from simple illnesses like diarrhea, starvation, and over-work.

The only thing the living could do for the dead in the prison camp was close the eyes of the people who passed away—who died in the prison camp.

[…]

Fortunately, I was released on Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16, 2000 from Prison Camp #11. I miraculously survived, and I escaped North Korea again. However, I was arrested by Chinese authorities and then repatriated back to North Korea again. At this point, I was three months pregnant.

The North Korean regime does not recognize mixed race children. So, North Korean security agents, they force these women who come back pregnant with Chinese babies—who are often sold into trafficking situations—to have forced abortions by carrying heavy cement blocks in detention facilities or being forced to do a repeated sitting down and standing up motion. Or, in the case of six month or longer pregnant North Korean defector women, they will… do medicinally induced abortion.

Every night, I heard the screams of women going through forced abortions in the prison camp.

I too could not avoid this fate, as I was three months pregnant with a half-Chinese, half-Korean baby in my womb.

Where they placed me was not a hospital bed, but it was a desk. And a fearful-looking doctor forcibly pried open my legs and inserted forceps and started killing my baby in my womb by cutting up and shredding my baby.

This was all done without any anesthesia used on me and the physical pain was so hard to endure.

I could hear the doctor being frustrated with the fact that the shredded parts of my baby… were not falling off the forceps.

So, he would bang the forceps against a dish to get rid of the pieces of my baby’s body. And that sound still rings in my ears to this day.

I cried out to God, “God, do you see this? How come I have to take this painful violent choice? Were my prayers not enough for you?”

And I heard the voice of God say back to me, “Does this hurt? Does this hurt a lot? Then now you understand what I went through when I sent my son to the world.” This is when I knew the heart of God.

And I determined that I would survive and I would tell the world about the Christian persecution of the North Korean regime and the human rights violations going on in the country and to spread the Good News of Jesus in North Korea.

And I escaped North Korea again.

Once I arrived in South Korea after my escape, I became an activist. And I am involved with work sending leaflets and Christian materials into North Korea via balloons and working as an activist.

And I also am taking this message throughout the world to tell the people all around the world about the human rights situation in North Korea.

My message is that human rights is the right for people to enjoy the freedom of God-given faith.

So, today, I want to share… three suggestions of how we can pressure the Chinese government, and, more importantly, the North Korean government, to stop the persecution of Christians.

First of all, North Korea is a country that kills people who believe in Jesus and persecutes them.

So, the U.S. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, and this is where one of the articles… of the act says that countries of particular concern when it comes to religious persecution must face a punishment, diplomatically and through economic sanctions, so that they will change their ways. North Korea fits this perfectly.

Second, in China, North Korean women who are repatriated into North Korea who are pregnant are forced to undergo abortion… and there are currently 250,000 estimated refugees living in China. A lot of them have come into contact with Christianity and are attending churches.

North Korean defector women are investigated by Chinese authorities before being handed over to North Korean authorities. And as a result of the investigation, depending on how much exposure they’ve had to people from South Korea or Americans in China, they’re either sent to a total control zone political prison camp, or sent to a prison, or executed.

And China, while still being a member of the Security Council of the U.N., and also being a party to the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, they violate the rights of North Korean defectors. They do not recognize them as refugees. So, the voice against China calling out their actions must grow louder.

[…]

In closing, the principle of Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, says that countries should protect and help those who are facing persecution and are facing this sort of danger.

And so, I believe… that the international community should pressure the Chinese government to stop the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.

[…]

So, as Moses said to the Pharaoh, we cry out to the North Korean government, “Let my people go.”

Thank you.

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