Category archives: Religious Persecution

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.

Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Anti-Conversion Laws Are Violating Religious Freedom

by Family Research Council

May 2, 2019

There is unprecedented religious persecution around the globe. In recent years, the Pew Research Center has found increasing governmental and social hostility toward religious believers worldwide. For the last ten years, Christians have been harassed in more countries, including the United States, than any other religious group, and in 2016, one or more religious groups were harassed in 187 countries globally.

While the specific threats to religious freedom vary in type and intensity, one common source is the legal and cultural support for apostasy, blasphemy, and/or anti-conversion laws, which often threaten the freedom to choose and/or change one’s faith.

  • Apostasy laws punish people who “apostasize” and convert away from Islam. Across much of the Muslim world, apostasy laws—backed by social pressure—are used to deter apostasy and sometimes punish even allegations of the crime. These laws prevent Muslims from freely choosing their faith— whether Christianity or anything else.
  • Blasphemy laws generally prohibit insults to religion and are the most widespread of these three types of laws. In many places, while still on the books, such laws are no longer enforced or even used. But in other places, again in many Muslim majority countries, they are often abused when allegations of blasphemy are made against religious minorities—often with no evidence—to settle unrelated disputes and vendettas.
  • Anti-conversion laws, quite simply, prohibit people from converting to another religion. Primarily in place in parts of the Hindu and Buddhist world, anti-conversion laws are used by governments to maintain a majority of the population within their preferred religion.

While threats to religious freedom arise from other sources, these three types of laws and the cultural support behind them are major threats to the freedom to choose one’s faith—and thus to religious freedom worldwide.

Punishment for those convicted of violating such laws can include marriage annulment, property confiscation, prison sentences, or death sentences. A number of countries can impose the death penalty for violations of such laws, including: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia (in certain states), Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Additionally, a mere allegation of a violation often results in intense social hostility from one’s community and family members, who retaliate with anything from slight harassment all the way up to violence resulting in death.

Drafted out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaims in Article 18 that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (emphasis added). The laws listed and described here, and the social acceptance behind them, are a direct threat to religious freedom as articulated in the UDHR.

FRC’s new publication Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Anti-Conversion Laws is a list of countries that have apostasy, blasphemy, and/or anti-conversion laws on the books, though not all such laws are still actively used. Moreover, some are not likely to be used or are effectively nullified by other legal measures or constitutional rights which take precedence. However, for purposes of understanding where these laws have been or are in place, they have been left in this publication.

Examples of enforcement and cultural impact are provided for some of the countries where these laws are still enforced or have influence. When we understand how these laws work, and how they serve as obstacles to religious freedom around the globe, we can better advocate for the freedom of all people worldwide.

Read the full report here.

Also, don’t miss a discussion on this new report with FRC President Tony Perkins and Travis Weber, the Director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty.

Fighting Religious Persecution with Mustard Seeds

by Caleb Seals

February 18, 2019

Due to security concerns, the location of this country cannot be disclosed.

For someone who has never been outside of America, I was pumped up about going on my first mission trip overseas. Before the journey, our group went through an intensive preparation course. This course required us to grow in our faith, prepare our armor, and know the laws of the land we were traveling to. We had to practice praying with our eyes open, talk in coded language, and have the ability to detect undercover law enforcement.

The country that we were going to was not Christian-friendly, to put it mildly. We were officially traveling as tourists in a hiking club. We would need to constantly be alert for authorities that could be following us. Per the country’s laws, we were banned from teaching the Bible or sharing the gospel. Of course, that wasn’t going to stop us.

After over 20 hours of flying, we finally arrived at our destination. The very next day, we left the city and went into the outer countryside to start our mission. For the first few days, we stayed in host homes that were a part of small villages on the mountainside. We used translators to speak and encourage believers in their walk with Jesus.

After news of our arrival spread, we were constantly stopped and asked to come in to people’s homes so that they could question us about our activities and take a group picture with their phones. It is also important to note that most of these people had other gods in their life. In almost every hut we went into, there were false idols that they would worship. Many people in these communities seemed to mostly put their hope in the local fortune teller.

After visiting multiple villages, we then set out to a region that no other group had gone to before us. This area had never even heard the name of Jesus, let alone knew what a Bible was. Due to the threat of being compromised, we simply spoke to the people in this area and did prayer walks. During our prayer walks, we would drop mustard seeds, hoping that the Holy Spirit would fill that area (Matthew 17:20).

At the camp, there were undercover officers who posed as fishermen that were sent there by the government to observe our activities and document who we were in contact with. Most of our friends in the country that traveled with us had left so that they would not be endangered.

One night, after an interesting encounter with a fortune teller, we arrived back to our camp. Our host, along with the law enforcement officers, told us that our time staying there was over. I had no idea what to expect. I had heard of several stories in the news about Christians being persecuted and had no idea what would happen to us. We immediately thought of the worst possible outcomes. Are they going to arrest us? Will we be able to return home? What will happen to the contacts we made in the area? The authorities then told us that we were required to leave the area immediately, but we had no idea where to go.

We loaded up the van and had to leave in the middle of the night to a hotel hours away. To securely inform our church of what had just transpired, we had to talk in the bathroom and turn the water on to avoid eavesdroppers. Eventually, we found out that the government compensated visiting tourists to find out information about us. We eventually left the country without any further problems.

On our flight home, I reflected on our journey and prayed that it was not a waste of time. We were all a little discouraged because we did not know why God would send us there only to be shipped right back home again.

Several months after we returned home, we got an update from our contact in the country where we had spent our mission trip. Our contact stated that since our departure, hundreds of people had been saved in the same area where we did not even mention the name of Jesus and had merely prayed while dropping mustard seeds. It was awesome to see how God revealed himself through only the faith of a mustard seed!

Since then, we continue to pray for the Holy Spirit to move every day in that country. It is obvious from the news that not all stories about international religious persecution end as safely as ours did. You saw what happened with Pastor Brunson. You see what is happening with the persecution of our brothers and sisters by ISIS. You see what is happening in China. We need to remember that we have millions of brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world who risk their freedom and their lives every day, merely for being Christian. I hope that you will join me in praying for the persecuted Christians around the globe.

Caleb Seals is an intern at Family Research Council.

What to Know About Indonesia’s New “Blasphemy Reporting App”

by Travis Weber

December 12, 2018

It was recently announced that Google agreed to list an app created by the Indonesian government allowing users to report alleged “blasphemy” to authorities. The app is called “Smart Grip” (locally known as “Smart Pakem”), and is available in the Google Play store. What does this mean, and what are we to think of this? First, some background, and then discussion of the app.

What are blasphemy laws?

Blasphemy laws generally prohibit and punish insults to religion. They are often abused when allegations of blasphemy are made against religious minorities—often with no evidence—to settle personal disputes. Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman convicted and sentenced to death for blasphemy after a dispute with a Muslim coworker, was prosecuted after an allegation that she committed the crime (she has since been released, to the tune of much public hostility).

How does Indonesia view blasphemy?

Indonesia criminalizes blasphemy. Article 156 of the penal code states it is illegal to “publicly give[] expression to feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt.” Maximum punishment for this crime is four years. Article 156(a) goes further, prohibiting one from “deliberately … giv[ing] expression to feelings or commit[ing] an act” which is “at enmity with, abus[es], or stain[s] a religion … with the intention to prevent a person to adhere to any religion based on the belief of the almighty God.” Maximum punishment for this crime is five years.

What effect have these laws had?

Among other cases, Jakarta’s former governor, a Christian, was imprisoned for blasphemy last year, and it was only recently announced he would be released. A Buddhist woman was also convicted of blasphemy after complaining about the noise level of a neighborhood mosque’s loudspeakers.

How did the app come into being?

Development of the app was requested by the Indonesian government, and it was created by Jakarta’s High Prosecution Office (it has also been reported that a body charged with “religious oversight” in the Indonesia Attorney General’s office launched the app). This is a dangerous, anti-religious freedom office, according to experts, yet it has been approved by Google for listing in its app store.

What does the app do?

It allows users to report, directly to the government, groups practicing unrecognized faiths or unorthodox interpretations of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism.

What are the implications?

Religious persecution in Indonesia likely to increase if this app is used. No doubt, variations of Christianity displeasing to Muslims and others are likely to be reported. But others will be affected too. One of the groups described as “deviant” on the app are the Ahmadiyah, a peaceful group of Muslims with adherents around the world (including the U.S.), but who are viewed as heretical by many other Muslims. Indonesia has many Muslims—such as those represented by Nahdlatul Ulama—who do not want to see a spread in the use of blasphemy laws. They have even publicly criticized developments like the recent conviction of a Buddhist woman for blasphemy. But hardline, violent Muslims are on the rise in Indonesia, and this app will only aid them. If they are allowed to continue to grow, Indonesia could turn out like Pakistan in the future—with not just one, but many Asia Bibi’s of its own.

What has been the reaction to the app?

It has drawn widespread backlash from diverse quarters, creating an unusual alliance against it—from Robert Spencer to Human Rights Watch and the “friendly atheist” blog. It does not seem that Google has publicly responded to news inquiries or criticism yet.

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.

In India, Twitter Gets a Taste of the True Danger of Viewpoint Suppression

by Family Research Council

November 26, 2018

Last Thursday, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, was accused of violating India’s blasphemy law during his recent visit to the country. A legal group filed a petition against him asking a court to determine that Dorsey violated several penal laws, including section 295A, which prohibits the “outrage [of the] religious feelings of any class.” It could become a high-profile example of the active enforcement of blasphemy laws, which exist in dozens of countries and are still enforced today.

Though intended to protect “religious feelings,” blasphemy laws like India’s section 295A are used by the government and hostile private parties seeking retaliation to suppress people of minority faiths. In Pakistan, for instance, the country’s highest court overturned the conviction of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who wallowed in jail for almost ten years on death row because of a dispute that resulted in an accusation of blasphemy when she drank water from a common well used by Muslim women.

Blasphemy laws also undermine speech and religious liberty by saddling convicted individuals with onerous penalties for expressing their beliefs. The law in Pakistan, which carries the death penalty, is the most extreme example.  But penalties commonly include years-long imprisonment and fines. A violation of India’s section 295A, for instance, is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.

While six states in America still have blasphemy laws on the books, they are unenforced and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections would surely trump those laws if they were ever brought against someone in court. Countries like India and Pakistan also have provisions in their constitutions supposedly protecting the freedom of conscience or religious exercise, but those provisions obviously are not fully and effectively enforced.

Multiple news stories reveal that Twitter actively bans or censors users for expressing views with which the organization disagrees. Turnabout is fair play, perhaps. But, hopefully, this will serve as a wakeup call to the company about the true danger of suppressing the expression of beliefs.

No one should have to fear the sword of the government or blasphemy laws being used against them for expressing their beliefs. To ensure that all people can speak and worship according to their conscience, we must fight against blasphemy laws and guarantee protections for the freedom to believe.

Pakistani Christian Woman’s Fate Hangs in the Balance

by Travis Weber

October 8, 2018

Earlier today, Pakistan’s Supreme Court heard the final appeal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of the crime of “blasphemy” after being accused of insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad—a claim which arose out of an argument with several Muslim women who grew angry at her for drinking water from the same bowl as them, which they believed made the water ceremonially unclean.

Subsequently, in the first and most high-profile case under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, Mrs. Bibi was charged, convicted, and sentenced to death.

Now, today, there appears to be a glimmer of hope that she could be acquitted by the high court and set free, with sources currently reporting the justices are set to reverse her conviction.

Yet the opposition to this within Pakistani society is great. Over the course of this ten-year long prosecution, multiple Pakistani politicians who have stood up for Mrs. Bibi have been assassinated, including Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the cabinet’s only Christian, and Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was killed by his own bodyguard. The bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri—who was later convicted and executed by the Pakistani government—has been lionized as a hero by Islamists, including the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which rallies around punishing blasphemy and which is currently warning against any “concession or softness” for Mrs. Bibi, claiming that “[i]f there is any attempt to hand her over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences.”

This sad saga reminds us of the clear threat posed to religious freedom by the abuse of blasphemy laws. These laws—which infringe on a proper conception of religious freedom—would be bad enough on their face. Yet quite often, they aren’t even used for their ostensible purpose, but become vehicles to settle personal disagreements and even political scores.

Mrs. Bibi’s case also reminds us that we need religious freedom at the cultural level in addition to the governmental level. Pakistan may have government leaders willing to defend her, but when the worldview prevailing in Pakistani culture is closer to that of the TLP party than Mr. Taseer’s, the road toward religious freedom will remain beset with almost insurmountable obstacles. 

Let us pray for Mrs. Bibi’s release and safety in the coming weeks. Let us also pray for freedom and flourishing in Pakistan—desiring blessing for all in that land, Mrs. Bibi’s friend and foe alike.

Another Attack on Kenyan Christians Brings Us Back to Watu Wote

by Travis Weber

September 20, 2018

Tragedy has repeated itself with the most recent attack on Christian bus passengers by al-Shabaab militants in Northeast Kenya. As has happened before, militants reportedly forced the passengers to show their identification cards, and then separated them according to whether they had a Muslim and Christian name. Those with non-Muslim names were forced to recite the Shahada, or the Islamic statement of faith, and two (likely Christians) who failed to recite it were immediately executed.

Reflecting with sadness on these events, we recall the short film Watu Wote (“All of Us” in Swahili, pictured above). An Oscar short film finalist, it tells the true story of another al-Shabaab attack—also on a bus in this area of Kenya (in Mandera to be precise). In this instance, Muslims on the bus refused to separate from the Christians despite orders from the militants to do so, which helped save the lives of the Christians. The film is difficult to watch, but well-done, and an encouraging story of human beings choosing to do what is right, despite the risk of doing so.

In light of recent events, the film is well worth a watch.

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