Tag archives: Religious Freedom

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.

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.

China is Trafficking the Organs of Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

May 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fashion Isn¿t the Most Important Thing to Come Out of Milan

by Chris Gacek

November 19, 2014

If you have some time, watch FRC’s lecture with Jim Tonkowich discussing his new book, The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today. One particularly interesting aspect of the talk was Tonkowich’s discussion of the rise of religious freedom during the Roman Empire. Of particular importance was the Edict of Milan of 313 A.D. Read George Weigel’s First Things blog on this important document. Referencing the great church historian Robert Louis Wilken (The First Thousand Years), Weigel describes the document’s foundational significance in Western political thought and practice:

[The Edict] involved all religions, not just Christianity; it went beyond mere toleration and embodied a more robust idea of religious freedom, based on the conviction that true faith and true worship cannot be compelled; and it treated the Church as a corporate body with legal rights, including property-owning rights. Thus the not-really-an-Edict of Nicomedia and Elsewhere cemented into the foundations of the West ideas first sketched by the Christian philosopher Lactantius: that coercion and true religious faith don’t mix because “God wishes to be adored by people who are free” (as Joseph Ratzinger would rewrite Lactantius a millennium and a half later, in the 1986 Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation). The rather humane provisions of the mis-named “Edict of Milan” were not infrequently ignored in subsequent Western history; but that doesn’t alter the fact that the “Edict” had a profound and, in many respects, beneficial influence on the future of the West.

(Weigel quotes a passage from Wilken revealing that the Milanese origins of the documents putting the policy into effect arose from meetings between Emperors Constantine and Licinius during a state wedding.)

So, watch the lecture and learn other interesting things that will impress your friends and confound your opponents.

Hashtag Persecution

by Jourdan Stuart

November 14, 2014

When one hears a story about God’s people being persecuted for their beliefs, many examples throughout history come to mind. Adolph Hitler, the German dictator, ordered the extermination of six million Jews during the Holocaust. Many of the Jews were marched into gas chambers as participants of one of the largest genocides in world history. The Biblical account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is a historic example of individuals being persecuted for their religious beliefs. In this story, King Nebuchadnezzar throws Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace for refusing to worship the king’s golden image. Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.  Is genocide on a large scale more appalling than the individuals affected by it?

One contemporary example of modern-day persecution is the story of Asia Bibi of Pakistan. In 2010, this mother of five was convicted of blasphemy for speaking out against Muhammad and was sentenced to death. Her government-justified execution does not end her story but extends to her family who are facing a similar fate.  Supporters can bring attention to her story using the hashtag #FreeBibi via social media.

Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced by the Sudanese government to death by hanging for her Christian faith.  While in prison, Meriam gave birth to her child. After much international pressure she obtained her release and was returned to the United States.

Saeed Abedini is a pastor from Idaho being held in Rajaei Shahr prison for building an orphanage in Iran.  In 2012, Saeed, after being detained for being a Christian, was denied a court hearing, and was placed in a solitary confinement facility. He has been tortured and his communication with his family has been cut off. Facility medical staff refused him treatment because he is an “unclean” Christian.  In 2014, his condition deteriorated and he was transported to a hospital outside of the prison, where he received only minimal medical attention. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Saeed’s release and over 610,000 people have signed a petition to that end. Saeed and his family have remained steadfast thanks to the support and prayers of godly people. Awareness is being raised for Saeed on social media through the hashtag, #SaveSaeed.

North Korean officials were detaining American, Jeffery Fowle, an Ohio native, this past spring simply for leaving a Bible in his hotel room. Thankfully, through the efforts of the White House and prayers of believers worldwide, Mr. Fowle has obtained freedom. Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae, Americans being held in North Korea for “crimes” of the same nature, were also recently released.

Many in the U.S. are not aware of the persecution experienced by Americans overseas. As noted, Americans are not immune to this persecution. We must pray that God will give strength to endure trials, and we must pray for the safe return of our brothers and sisters around the world facing persecution for their beliefs. We must also pray for our leaders to aggressively defend persecuted Christians around the world.

ISIS: and the New Damascus Road

by Family Research Council

November 6, 2014

The New Testament book of Acts tells us that Saul’s persecutions scattered the church throughout Judea and Samaria. Saul later converted to Christianity, on his way to Damascus to eradicate Christians, and began planting churches throughout the Mediterranean region

Today a new scattering in the Middle East has begun and a new group of persecutors on the road to Damascus has risen up. The new so-called caliphate, ISIS, which has emerged in the Middle East is seeking to remove from its borders all those who claim allegiance to the Jesus Christ. The slaughter of Christians has been one of the most troubling aspects of the rise of ISIS among many horrific stories coming out of Iraq and Syria.

While persecution is not new to Christians in the Middle East, many communities which have existed for millennia are in danger of being eradicated. You can read some of the troubling news in a recent article published by the Gatestone Institute.

Christians can pray for the persecuted by asking for God’s protection of them and for their boldness in sharing the Gospel. We should also pray that the Lord would change the hearts of the persecutors like He changed the heart of Paul and in so doing stop their evil rampage. May God turn this wave of persecution into one that turns the heart of a great persecutor into the heart of a great missionary, and one that uses the scattering of the faithful to spread new hope in Christ wherever they are driven.

Beachheads of God’s Kingdom

by Rob Schwarzwalder

November 3, 2014

So, things can look pretty bleak, at home and abroad. But in addition to the fact that we have the legal right and moral duty to try to restrain evil and advance good, Christians can celebrate some very good things that are happening concurrent with the gloom that sometimes seems to surround us.

Here is some news to encourage believers who sometimes feel at sea without a rudder in the waves of our culture. Some stories deal with specific events, others with broader trends. All should help keep us steadfast as we work for life, family, and liberty.

  • The adoption movement is bringing thousands of little ones, at home and abroad, into loving Christian homes).
  • Although a recent survey says that most Americans see religion’s influence in culture waning, the survey also shows “most people who say religion’s influence is waning see this as a bad thing”. This presents a real opportunity for Christians to talk about how God’s standards for society actually work – and use them to share the good news about Jesus, too.
  • Believers in the U.S. are growing more and more aware of their suffering brethren across the globe; for example, FRC played a key role in the release of Christian Mariam Ibrahim from Sudanese captivity earlier this year. Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors are among those leading in this area.

Is this list comprehensive? No. Does it diminish the grim news about abortion, violations of religious liberty, erosions of the family and our culture and other bad things we hear about so often? No.

But God is doing wonderful things despite the fallenness and corruption that is in the world. Let’s rejoice in that truth and from it gather continued strength to keep fighting the wrongs of our time.

Senate Passes Special Envoy Bill to Prioritize State Department Engagement on Religious Liberty

by Leanna Baumer

July 11, 2014

The plight of Iraq’s Jewish community, Syria’s persecuted Christian and Muslim minorities, and Egypt’s beleaguered Christian population has largely gone unnoticed by the Western world and has only occasionally been addressed by the American diplomatic corps (save onetime hashtag campaigns). The appalling case of Sudanese Christian Meriam Ibrahim, a woman married to a U.S. citizen and detained in prison for months for refusing to renounce her faith, has made the State Department’s lackluster defense of the rights of conscience internationally all the more apparent.

However, last night, the U.S. Senate took an encouraging step forward in the effort to force the State Department to prioritize the freedom of religion in diplomatic efforts globally. In a unanimous vote, the Senate cleared the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2014 (S. 653).

Sponsored by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt (R), S. 653 aims to skirt the intractable bureaucracy of the State Department and elevate the engagement of religious freedom issues in the region of the world most threatened by attacks against people of faith. S. 653 creates the new post of “Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia,” a position to be filled by a Presidential appointee with regional expertise and experience in the field of human rights and religious freedom.

While a companion bill (long championed by Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia) had passed the House of Representatives almost a year ago, S. 653 has languished in the Senate. Last night’s Senate passage marked a breakthrough in negotiations, with the amended Senate bill now containing a sunset provision (unless reauthorized, the Special Envoy position will expire in 2019) to address cost concerns. Now sent back to the House, S.653 faces strong prospects of quick passage given the large bi-partisan levels of support for the Special Envoy in the House previously (H.R. 301 passed by a vote of 402-22 last year).

As entire religious communities face extinction in parts of the Middle East and South Central Asia, the urgency of articulating religious freedom principles abroad has never been starker. A Special Envoy empowered to speak on behalf of religious minorities undergoing persecution will give the U.S. greater leverage in advocating for a freedom so foundational to all others. It is vital that Congress finish consideration of S.653 and that the President sign this bi-partisan legislation into law.

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