Tag archives: Religious Persecution

New Report Reveals Rising Hostility to Religion in China

by Arielle Del Turco

May 4, 2020

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that China keep its designation as a “Country of Particular Concern”—a label the U.S. government gives to the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. USCIRF’s 2020 annual report found China deserving of this title because “religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate” in 2019, noting abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Falun Gong, and other religious groups. USCIRF’s report offers policy recommendations for the U.S. government to address the swift decline of religious freedom in China, and American officials should take these recommendations to heart as religious believers endure persecution in China.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) detains an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang facilities the CCP calls “vocational schools” but operate as brainwashing centers. USCIRF noted that former detainees “report that they suffered torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses.” It is not just the detained individuals who suffer; their families feel the effects as well. USCIRF’s report noted that almost half a million Muslim children are separated from their parents and left to be raised by the state. Communist party officials are sent to live with and report on other Uyghur families in Xinjiang.

USCIRF also found that Tibetan Buddhists continue to be victims of the CCP’s disdain. Last summer, the CCP displaced up to 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns after destroying their residences. The Commission also highlighted the Chinese government’s strange obsession with interfering in the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

By the end of 2019, the CCP proved it has no intention of slowing down—or even hiding—its accelerating religious persecution. Pastor Wang Yi, a well-known house church pastor who had long avoided the state-affiliated church association, was sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019. USCIRF reported that several local governments offered money to anyone willing to inform on house churches in their area.

Meanwhile, the decades-long persecution of peaceful Falun Gong practitioners continues. Thousands of Falun Gong adherents were arrested last year alone, and evidence continues to mount that the government is harvesting the organs of political prisoners, including Uyghurs and the Falun Gong.

The Commission’s report also noted that, while the Hong Kong protests were not about religious freedom, many pastors joined the protests against the Chinese government’s encroachment into the semi-autonomous city. Church leaders feared that the extradition bill which sparked the protests “would have undermined their ability to advocate without fear of retaliation.”

Early 2020, which is beyond the reporting period of USCIRF’s report, saw the Chinese government scrambling to deal with the coronavirus. But during this worldwide pandemic, which originated within its borders, the CCP continued its oppression of religious believers largely uninterrupted.

While the rest of the world battled the virus, the CCP continued removing crosses from church buildings across China. In one case, Xiangbaishu Church in Yixing City was vandalized and completely gutted.

The government exploited the pandemic, using it as an excuse to further abuse the Uyghur Muslim minority. In Xinjiang, where most Uyghurs live, the coronavirus lockdown instituted by the government was particularly intense, enforced suddenly and without warning. Residents did not have time to store food and supplies, leaving many families hungry. Governments reveal their priorities by what they choose to focus on during a crisis. For the Chinese government, religious suppression is a priority.

To address China’s egregious religious freedom violations, USCIRF recommends the U.S. government take several actions. One notable recommendation is to express concern that Beijing will be holding the 2022 Winter Olympic Games while perpetrating grave human rights violations. Significantly, the Commission also calls for the U.S. government to support the Uyghur Forced Labor Act that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. If passed, the U.S. would assume all products imported from Xinjiang are made with forced labor and thereby ban them unless the company can prove otherwise. The Uyghur Forced Labor Act would be an effective way to address China’s human rights violations because it prevents the government from profiting from their forced labor program, which is suspected of using Uyghur detainees in Xinjiang.

USCIRF’s latest report confirms that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has little tolerance for religion and that holding an allegiance to a higher power than the state can make you a target for government surveillance, intimidation, or arbitrary detention. While China seeks to consolidate global influence, its leaders continue to dig their heels in on their repressive policies toward religion. USCIRF has called upon the U.S. government to address China’s stark religious freedom violations. For the sake of millions of religious believers suffering at the hands of the Chinese government, the U.S. government should embrace USCIRF’s recommendations, and the rest of the world should be inspired to follow suit.

FRC’s Top 7 Trending Items Over the Past 7 Days

by Family Research Council

May 1, 2020

Introducing “The 7”! Each week, we’ll share Family Research Council’s top seven trending items over the past seven days.

Here’s this week’s 7 top trending items:

1. Washington Update: “In Iran, a Hotspot of Misery”

Currently in Iran there is an astonishing coronavirus death toll, which is the largest in the Middle East. Amid this COVID-19 crisis, the Iranian government continues to neglect its people, who are already overwhelmed by threats of war and starvation. In addition, they are threatening the world with a military missile launch.

Also, in an interview with Tony Perkins on Washington Watch, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provided analysis on Iran’s threats and foreign propaganda efforts to blame the United States for the spread of coronavirus. Go to FRC’s SoundCloud to listen to this important interview.

2. Washington Update: “Govs Get Their Priorities out in the Re-open”

We are at a point in the COVID-19 pandemic where states are beginning to decide whether or not to begin the process of reopening in order to save their economies. After President Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force provided guidelines to help states move forward with reopening, some governors are giving their citizens the freedom to decide for themselves what is best for their success and wellbeing.

Also, Dr. Roger Marshall, U.S. Representative for the 1st district of Kansas, talked with Tony Perkins on Washington Watch and shared his thoughts on this issue and about his decision to remain in his district to treat COVID-19 patients while Congress votes to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program.

3. Washington Update: “Virus Brings Unlikely Faith Fellows Together”

The coronavirus has and is producing fear in a time that feels uncertain, but the reality is that life is always uncertain—we are not even promised tomorrow. Given the current climate and circumstance that we all now find ourselves in, it is imperative that we come together to help our loved ones and neighbors, and to keep our eyes open for the light and hope in the darkness. In New York City’s Central Park, an unlikely partnership between one family and one organization formed to help those in need in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Blog: “Why We Remember the Armenian Genocide”

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a terrible historical event that has not received the attention it deserves. On April 24, 1915, heavily armed troops rounded up hundreds of Armenian professors, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul). It was the beginning of an annihilation campaign carried out by the Ottoman Empire aimed at killing thousands of Christian Armenians, to eliminate them from society. In a time when Christians are being persecuted around the world, it is important to remember and learn from history.

5. FRC’s “Guidelines for Reopening Your Church”

This week, FRC initiated a poll on Facebook asking our audience, “Is it time for state and local officials to give more freedom to individuals and businesses, trusting them to manage the coronavirus health risks and re-open?” President Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force recently announced a three-phase plan with guidelines for states to begin softening restrictions on social distancing. This will enable churches and businesses to begin re-opening. To safely begin this process, FRC put together some best practices and tips for churches and places of worship to consider when crafting reopening plans.

6. Washington Watch: Ken Blackwell Urges Freedom Over Fear When Easing Restrictions

Ken Blackwell, FRC’s Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance, joined Tony Perkins in an interview on Washington Watch to discuss how are states moving to partially reopen and limit the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy while still avoiding public health risks. Watch the interview on FRC’s YouTube page or listen on SoundCloud.

7. Washington Watch: Tony Perkins Discusses USCIRF’s 2020 Annual Report

This week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released their “2020 Annual Report” with recommendations for U.S. policy to improve the state of religious freedom around the world. Tony Perkins, Chair of USCIRF and host of Washington Watch, joined guest host Sarah Perry to discuss the gains and losses to religious freedom as well as apostasy and blasphemy laws in countries around the world.

For more from FRC, visit our website at frc.org, our blog at frcblog.org, our Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account. Get the latest on what FRC is saying about the current issues of the day that impact the state of faith, family and freedom, both domestically and abroad. Check out “The 7” at the end of every week to get our highlights of the week’s trending items. Have a great weekend!

How to Learn More About the Plight of North Koreans

by Arielle Del Turco

May 1, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The challenges faced by North Koreans can be difficult to comprehend. North Korea is a completely isolated country where the government controls its citizens’ access to information, tightly restricts their movements, and forces them to idolize political leaders. It is also very difficult for the rest of the world to attain accurate information about this secretive country. Yet, we do know that North Korea is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights and religious freedom. The fact that 25 million people live under such an oppressive regime is a human problem—one that should concern us all. Therefore, we ought to pay close attention to what is happening in North Korea and raise awareness about what its people endure every day.

In order to make a difference, we must first become informed. Here are some ideas on how you can learn more about the plight of the North Korean people, including Christians.

Listen to the Stories of North Korean Defectors

The best way to learn what life is like inside North Korea is to listen to the stories of those who have lived there. The following are just a few of the many powerful stories of North Korean defectors.

Testimony of Ji Hyeon-a: Family Research Council hosted North Korean defector Ji Hyeon-a to share her story last year. Ji is a Christian who was beaten by North Korean authorities for her faith and experienced a myriad of tragic struggles before making her way to freedom in South Korea.

Under the Same Sky by Joseph Kim: Joseph was a young boy during the 1990s famine in North Korea, eventually leading him to beg and steal. He later escaped across the border into China, where he became a Christian, before making his way to the United States. His book paints a vivid picture of life in the hermit kingdom.

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy features the stories of six North Koreans from different backgrounds. Well-researched and easy to read, this book is an excellent introduction to life in North Korea and the recent history of the regime.

Do Your Research

In addition to hearing the stories of North Koreans, it is important to understand how the regime abuses its people. Reviewing the following reports will give you a more comprehensive perspective of the evils perpetrated by the Kim family dictators.

UN Human Rights Report: This 2014 United Nations report revealed the many human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime. The horrors include starvation, enslavement, torture, and murder.

USCIRF 2020 Religious Freedom Report: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom develops an annual report on the world’s worst violators of religious freedom, including North Korea. This report is vital to understanding the plight of religious believers in North Korea. It also provides suggestions for how the U.S. government can start to address the regime’s grave religious freedom violations.

Follow Organizations that Support North Korean Defectors

Liberty in North Korea: Liberty in North Korea is an organization that helps North Korean escapees and gives a voice to their stories. Their documentary, The Jangmadang Generation, will change the way you think about the future of North Korea.

Voice of the Martyrs: Voice of the Martyrs raises awareness about the persecution of Christians around the world. Some of their ministry has focused on aiding North Korean Christians in China and giving voice to their stories.

Use Your Knowledge

Learning about the challenges of others is important, but this education should spur us on to engagement. Stay informed and inform others. Pray for the North Korean people and leaders, but also pray about how God might be calling you to act on their behalf. Learning is just the first step to making a difference—the next steps are up to you. 

How You Can Pray for North Korea and its Persecuted Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

April 29, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea. See the first one here.

With rumors swirling about the health of Kim Jong Un and speculation over whether North Korea really has “zero” coronavirus cases as claimed, the world’s attention has once again turned to the most secretive country on earth. This heightened attention should remind us to pray for North Korea’s estimated 300,000 Christians.

North Korea has absolutely no religious freedom. The atheistic regime, which exerts near-total control over all aspects of life, presents many challenges for Christians. They must keep their faith a secret, sometimes even from their own families.

Christians in North Korea are isolated from a faith community. They cannot meet with large groups of fellow believers for worship, for fear of someone informing the regime. Nor can they show any public expression of their faith. Doing so may land them in a labor camp—if they are not killed on the spot. The stakes are exceptionally high: if the government discovers a Christian, the Christian’s family often endures the same punishment.

As Christians, we are obligated to care for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. When the early church was starting to experience persecution, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Although it is difficult for American Christians to imagine the lives of North Korean believers, we should feel a connection to Christians there, as we are all children of God (Rom. 8:16-17). We should empathize with fellow believers who suffer for the faith. One way to do this is through prayer.

Here are three ways you can pray for North Korea and its persecuted Christians: 

1) Pray that God would strengthen the faith of Christians to withstand persecution, and that He would meet their physical needs.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Christians in North Korea are extremely isolated and may even feel pressure to hide their beliefs from their family members. Pray that God would give them the strength to endure difficult circumstances and that He would meet their practical needs. Pray for an end to persecution and to labor and prison camps. Pray that God would soften the hearts of North Korean leaders.

2) Pray for North Korean defectors who cross the border into China.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

When North Korean defectors flee, they most often escape through China, a country with many human rights issues of its own. Defectors—most of whom are female—are often trafficked. If caught by the Chinese government, defectors are usually repatriated back to North Korea and sent to a labor camp. Defectors who return to North Korea after becoming pregnant in China often endure painful forced abortions in the camps.  

Yet, those who escape North Korea are also more likely to hear the gospel in China. Chinese churches and South Korean missionaries that work along the Chinese-North Korean border minister to defectors and even help them escape to South Korea. Pray for successful escapes by North Korean defectors, for their safety while in China, and that they would encounter Christianity as many attempt to continue their journey to South Korea or elsewhere.

3) Pray for the future of North Korea.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

North Koreans have proved to be an industrious people. When their communist government failed them and a famine cost the lives of anywhere from 240,000 to two million people in the mid-1990s, many rejected communist propaganda and started trading and creating products to sell in local markets in order to feed their families. Most of these new capitalists are women, and some say this economic development is starting to change the country from the inside. Though the current North Korean regime is oppressive and its current ruler, Kim Jong Un, is a brutal dictator, North Koreans are capable of forging a bright future if given the chance. We ought to pray they get that chance.

If the rumors of Kim Jong Un’s ill health are true, the future of North Korea is even more uncertain. However, even if the reports come to nothing and the media hype fades, North Korea still deserves our attention. The Kim dynasty has developed one of the most oppressive regimes on earth, and North Koreans must live with that reality regardless of whether their country is featured in international news or not. The movement to advance human rights in North Korea faces monumental challenges. The desperate needs of North Koreans should spur us on to pray without ceasing and advocate for their freedom to the best of our ability.

Ethnic Cleansing by Assimilation: Religious Persecution in China

by Bethany Bachman

April 28, 2020

There is a saying in China: ‘If you are not one of our kind, your heart is toward another side.’ Being different is what is so threatening to the Chinese government.”

These are the words of Jewher Ilham, spoken during a recent event at Family Research Council. Ms. Ilham is the daughter of a well-known Uyghur economist, writer, and academic who was given a life sentence for speaking out about freedom of religion and thought, and for seeking reconciliation between his people and the Han Chinese.

Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic community, the majority of whom live in Xinjiang province. It’s there that some of China’s most blatant abuses of religious liberty are currently taking place.

Eyewitness testimonies, leaked documents, and even Google Earth searches over the past year have all revealed a chilling reality: China has imprisoned at least a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities in detention camps in Xinjiang. Initially, Chinese authorities flatly denied the existence of the camps. But as World Magazine reported, with evidence mounting, the Chinese authorities changed their tune to claim these camps were “vocational training centers for Muslim minorities with terrorist tendencies.”

According to Ms. Ilham, the family members of the missing are told that their loved ones are being “trained to be productive workers.” But she says many of the imprisoned Uyghurs are scholars or doctors who require no such vocational training.

Undercover footage from one of the camps under construction—obtained by a reporter for the website Bitter Winter who was later arrested by Chinese authorities and is still missing—revealed double-locked doors, barred windows fitted with metal screens, and surveillance cameras in every room, including bathrooms.Leaked government documents detail a daily regimen of indoctrination in communist thought, Han Chinese (Mandarin) language lessons, and strictly monitored activities from toileting to daily exercise, which takes place in a yard surrounded by barbed wire. Other documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detail education in basic human interaction and daily living, reflecting a widespread Chinese belief that Uyghurs are “backward.”

Leaked specifications from one camp reveal a facility built to hold detainees for a year at a minimum. The detainees are permitted contact with their families, however this concession seems to have been engineered only to bolster the Chinese characterization of the camps as a benevolent social program. Testimony from ex-inmates reveals the reality: despite a stated goal of health and safety for “students,” ex-detainees relate having seen others die from poor living conditions and a lack of medical treatment. They have also reported experiencing or witnessing torture, beatings, and rape.

Some past incidents of violence provided Beijing with official reasoning for their “anti-terrorism” efforts among Uyghurs, but the methods they use to determine who is to be imprisoned reveal a goal of assimilation, not correction or rehabilitation. Using a massive network of surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition technology, access to utility and cell phone usage data, and monitoring other odd indicators of “suspicious behavior” such as entering one’s home through the back door, the government has largely used artificial intelligence to produce huge lists of “potential threats.”

According to reporting in Foreign Policy, when detainees complete their indoctrination, they do not return to freedom. Most, if not all, are involuntarily sent to work in sweatshops, even though many are skilled scholars, scientists, or businesspeople. This involuntary labor allows for continued state surveillance and control. Of particular concern for Americans is the mounting evidence that American apparel brands may be benefiting directly from the cheap labor Uyghurs are being forced to supply. The White House has yet to act, but experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies are recommending the Trump administration impose sanctions on companies engaged in human rights abuses.

Despite the state’s efforts to put a benevolent face on “re-education” efforts among Uyghur “students,” it is clear that this “re-education” is actually ideological ethnic cleansing enabled by technology from which there is no escape. President Xi Jinping himself is quoted in leaked documents, saying the government should use the tools of “dictatorship” to rid the region of Islam. Another government document likens the “unhealthy thoughts” of Uyghurs to a virus that must be eradicated.

Christians Come Under Communist Party Scrutiny

The detention camps are a horrifying example of the extremes to which China’s state-run religious persecution will go, but Uyghurs are by no means the only people group targeted by the Chinese Communist Party. As Ms. Ilham relates, Beijing in recent years has increasingly targeted Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong, and even non-religious groups like human rights lawyers. In fact, says Ilham, “China is the number one nation in the world for [numbers of] journalists and lawyers locked up in prison.”

Christians in the West have long been aware of China’s persecution of Christians. In recent years, however, many “unregistered” churches had emerged from secrecy—meeting in public, buying buildings or operating out of leased spaces, and erecting crosses to mark their church homes. Some congregations grew to be quite large, such as prominent house church Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu.

But as the church in China grew, Beijing once again took notice, and the crackdowns began. As International Christian Concern has reported, government forces have toppled crosses, demolished church buildings, arrested and intimidated pastors and church members, pressured landlords to terminate church leases, and installed facial recognition technology inside those church buildings that remain open.

Early Rain Covenant Church pastor Wang Yi, a former legal scholar, had been outspoken in his criticism of the Chinese government and its persecution of Christians. Wang, along with his wife and over 100 other church members, was placed under arrest last year. Most were released soon after, but those who were not natives of Chengdu were sent back to their hometowns. Pastor Wang’s wife was finally released in June of last year, but she remains under house arrest.

Wang, after a closed-door trial, was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and “operating an illegal business.” According to Bob Fu of ChinaAid, this is the longest prison sentence given to a house church pastor in more than a decade. Pastor Wang remains in good spirits and health, but members of the Early Rain congregation continue to face the loss of their community and fear over future government action, even as they have been forced back underground.

It comes as no surprise that China’s persecution of Christians has spread to include the resources upon which they depend. As World Magazine reported, when users of the popular YouVersion app experienced the program crashing because of China’s firewall technology, three Chinese Christians developed their own Bible reading app called WeDevote. The app grew in popularity until it was the top-ranked Bible app in China.

WeDevote became a source for Bible study resources, reading plans, commentaries, devotionals, and—as the creators were thrilled to discover—an evangelism tool. Trouble began when officials contacted one of the creators and let him know they were monitoring his every move, as well as his wife’s. Authorities threatened to charge the company with creating an illegal app, so the creators elected to shut down and transfer ownership to Hong Kong.

This solved access issues for a time, but the app was recently removed from the Android App Store (operated by Google). It remains available in Apple’s App Store, but most cell phone users in China use Android-based technology.

Many Christians in China recently learned even death cannot end their persecution—as, in some provinces, only secular funerals are now permitted. World News recently reported how, in other areas, strict regulations now dictate who may participate in funerals and how many attendees may read from the Bible or sing. Authorities threaten arrest and, in some cases, have interrupted services and even arrested a family member of the deceased while she was praying.

In late December, Christians received news of yet another crackdown in the form of a nationwide mandate. According to the Catholic News Agency, the 41 articles of this new policy contain new threats to those who dare to pledge their allegiance to Jesus, rather than the Communist Party. Yet millions of believers remain faithful.

When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a question of government loyalty, He responded in wisdom, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17 ESV). Xi Jinping and the Chinese communist regime do not understand that the hearts and minds of Chinese Christians do not and never will belong to them. Christians have found freedom that transcends earthly circumstances and daily live out Jesus’ admonition: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:38, ESV).

Will We Let Them Stand Alone?

We must not abandon our brothers and sisters in Christ, nor the other vulnerable minorities subjected to oppression and persecution for their beliefs. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right upon which all other freedoms depend. Thankfully, some of our nation’s leaders recognize this right and have taken action in the following ways:

  • The U.S. Congressional Commission on China produced a lengthy report listing four acts that qualify the nation as committing crimes against humanity.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which calls for targeted sanctions against officials in the Chinese Communist Party. The act encourages the U.S. president to condemn China’s persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and call for the closure of the detention camps there.
  • The Commerce Department has blacklisted 28 Chinese surveillance technology companies, barring them from buying technology from the United States without government approval.

As you consider the plight of Christians, Uyghurs, and others experiencing persecution for their beliefs in China, here are a few areas we encourage you to focus your prayers:

  • Pray for protection for Pastor Wang Yi and the rest of the Early Rain Covenant Church community, that they would find new joy and peace in their faith and that God would raise leaders to continue the work of the church.
  • Pray for revival in China and supernatural conversions within the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Pray for comfort for Uyghurs living abroad—according to Jewher Ilham, every Uyghur overseas has between one and ten family members in the detention camps. Pray they would encounter the hope that only Jesus can give.
  • Pray for the leaders of the United States, the international community, and governing bodies, that they would continue calling out injustice and using their influence to affect change for millions of vulnerable people.
  • Pray that the Chinese government will not use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to place additional restrictions on the religious freedom of Christians and other minority groups.

Bethany Bachman is a Contributing Writer at Family Research Council.

North Korea’s Horrifying Human Rights Record

by Lela Gilbert

April 27, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea.

Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un rules over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) with an iron fist. His proudest accomplishment is ownership of a deadly nuclear arsenal. A close second may very well be his horrifying human rights record. The U.S. State Department’s 2019 Country Report on Human Rights Practices features a nearly unbelievable catalog of the Kim regime’s abuses.

Freedom of religion does not exist in North Korea. And the regime is particularly hostile to Christianity. Year after year, Open Doors identifies the secretive “republic” as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians on its annual World Watch List. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2019 report:

…Anyone caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment. The government has been known to arrest, torture, imprison, and even execute religious believers and their family members, whether or not they are similarly religious. There are an estimated 80,000–120,000 political prisoners currently languishing in North Korea’s notoriously harsh labor camps, as many as 50,000 of whom may be Christians….

Meanwhile, in a shameful demonstration of 21st century idolatry, North Korea’s regime demands that all spiritual devotion be directed to Kim Jong Un and no one else.

Susanne Scholte, longtime Chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, explains that the required worship of the North Korean leader is a well-organized counterfeit of Christianity, called Juche. And although the North Korean regime denies that it is a religion, it contains religious tenets, holy places, holy days—and unholy practices. 

First, if it is known that you’re a Christian,” she continues, “you will most certainly be tortured and likely executed, or sent to prison camp to suffer a slower death. We know from testimonies that if you even confess that you’ve came in contact with a Christian, you’ll likely be imprisoned.”

According to Ms. Scholte’s research, all this is because Kim Il Song, Kim Jong Il, and now Kim Jong Un have set themselves up as gods. Faith in Jesus Christ is perceived as a direct attack on the Kim family.

Right now, the rest of the world is asking a few key questions about North Korea. First, how is Kim Jong Un’s health? Rumors of critical illness and even death are circulating, and not for the first time.

Second, what has been COVID-19’s impact on North Korea? The government has denied its existence in the country. But on April 17, Radio Free Asia reported, “Ruling Party Lecturers Admit COVID-19 is Spreading in North Korea, Contradicting Official Claims.” And on April 22, a New York Times op-ed stated, “There are no cases here, Kim Jong-un’s government claims, while acting as if its survival were at stake.”

Like the coronavirus, DPRK’s nuclear arms are a grave danger to the world. But the political and religious persecution happening inside North Korea are also matters of life and death. Agonizing torture and mass murder are taking place there as we speak. For Christians locked up in the gulag, the threat of annihilation is not a rumor. It is a terrifying reality they face every day.

North Korea’s Christians are members of our spiritual family. And it is high time for us to be interceding for them—for their health, their survival, and their deliverance from despotic abuse.  This week—April 26 through May 2—has been designated as a period of focused prayer for North Korea. And April 28 will be devoted to prayer and fasting.

Will you join us in prayer for North Korea’s Christians?

Why We Remember the Armenian Genocide

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

April 24, 2020

On April 24, 1915, heavily armed troops rounded up hundreds of Armenian professors, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul). These highly respected members of the community were jailed, tortured, and massacred. That April date marks the beginning of the annihilation campaign carried out by the Ottoman Empire known today as the Armenian Genocide.

The massacres were carried out in the most brutal ways.

After those first arrests and the subsequent murder of many husbands and fathers, family members who survived—mostly women, children, the ill, and the elderly—were forced to embark upon what has been described as a “concentration camp on foot.” They were told they would be “relocated.” In reality, they embarked on a death march—herded like animals, with whips and cudgels and at gunpoint.

These captives were provided with little or no food and water. Infants and the elderly were the first to die. Surviving mothers were gripped with insanity, helplessly watching their babies suffer and succumb. Eyewitness accounts and heart-wrenching photographs remain today. Corpses littered the roads; nude women were crucified; dozens of bodies floated in rivers. Soldiers proudly posed for pictures with decapitated heads or piles of skulls.

These photographs provide evidence of the gruesome reality forced upon Armenians due to their ethno-religious identity. An estimated 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians fell victim to the Ottoman government’s determination to eliminate Christian Armenians and to secure Muslim Turkish dominance in the region.

Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1913-16, recounted in his memoir:

The Central Government now announced its intention of gathering the two million or more Armenians living in the several sections of the empire and transporting them to this desolate and inhospitable region… As a matter of fact, the Turks never had the slightest idea of reestablishing the Armenians in this new country. They knew that the great majority would never reach their destination and that those who did would either die of thirst and starvation, or be murdered by the wild Mohammedan desert tribes…. When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race…

Shrouded under the cover of World War I, the genocide changed the region forever. There were once over 2 million Armenians in Turkey. By 1922, only 387,800 remained.

April 24, 2020, marks the first annual Remembrance Day since the United States’ House of Representatives and Senate both passed resolutions officially recognizing that the Armenian massacres were, in fact, a genocide.

Nonetheless, remembering the Armenian Genocide remains a sensitive issue because, unlike other 20th century atrocities, that annihilation continues to be disputed by an influential contemporary government, Turkey. And today’s Turkish strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an open Islamist, adamantly claims that the Armenian deaths were simply the result of World War I casualties. When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to officially affirm the massacres as genocide, Erdogan declared the declaration “worthless” and the “biggest insult” to the Turkish people.

Some historians insist that Armenia’s murdered Christians were “enemies of the Turkish State.” However, most agree that they were not killed because they were Armenian. They were killed for explicitly religious reasons: because they were Christians.

Sadly, even now, massacres due to religious identity are taking place in our world. In Nigeria, a slow-motion genocide is unfolding as Boko Haram and Muslim Fulani herdsmen ramp up attacks against Christians. In Myanmar, the Burmese military’s brutal efforts to drive out the Rohingya Muslim minority in recent years has killed at least 10,000 people and left almost 800,000 displaced. And in 2016, the United States officially declared the 2014 Islamic State attacks on Iraq’s Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities a genocide.

Why remember genocides of the past? Because they remind us how fragile civilizations have always been. Earlier tragedies should spur us to make consistently thoughtful arguments defending the inherent dignity of all human beings. And when attacks around the world fall along religious lines, the fundamental human right of religious freedom must be articulated and protected.

Today, many people are probably unfamiliar with the tragic massacres of Armenians that took place in Turkey over a century ago. However, students of World War II may be aware of it due to an infamous quote attributed to Adolf Hitler: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” His question implies that the failure to remember atrocities of the past gives ill-intentioned leaders confidence that history will not remember their own misdeeds. Perhaps this is the most compelling reason societies should never forget the atrocities that occurred before their time—including the Armenian Genocide.

Arielle Del Turco is the Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council.

Religious Freedom Concerns in India Rise Amid Coronavirus Crisis

by Arielle Del Turco

April 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

1) Rising Hindu nationalism breeds intolerance against religious minorities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) India still has anti-conversion laws.

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

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

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

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

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

by Arielle Del Turco

April 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus and the Underground Church in Iran: An Interview with Iranian Christians

by Family Research Council

March 30, 2020

Iran is one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus. The Iranian regime has struggled to contain the outbreak, leading to tens of thousands of infections and thousands of deaths. Meanwhile, Iran’s religious minorities continue to face persecution during the coronavirus crisis. Christians in Iran are regularly subject to harassment by authorities or arbitrary imprisonment. Even though Iran has released many prisoners due to the spread of the coronavirus and the unsanitary conditions of the prisons, some Christians remain imprisoned, being put in danger by the virus.

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh converted to Christianity in Iran and experienced persecution at the hands of the Iranian regime. They both spent nine months in prison on charges of apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-government activity because they left the state religion of Islam. Today, they live in the United States and advocate for religious freedom in Iran.

To learn more about what is happening on the ground in Iran, we asked Maryam and Marziyeh what Iranian Christians are facing during the coronavirus crisis.

FRC: What impact, if any, has the outbreak of coronavirus had on the underground church in Iran? 

Maryam and Marziyeh: Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Iran, and especially when the general population became aware of its danger and how fast it can spread, people became concerned and some started the practice of social distancing. We heard underground churches in Iran have cancelled their in-person meetings and instead they meet online either through Skype or other social media apps such as Telegram. They all join online and have their worship, teachings, and fellowship by all members participating and sharing their thoughts. 

FRC: What actions has the government taken to respond to the coronavirus crisis and what is the reaction of Iranian Christians to how the government has handled the outbreak?

Maryam and Marziyeh: Since the start of coronavirus outbreak in China the Iranian government was aware of the danger and spread of the virus but didn’t stop the flights from and to China and allowed the virus to spread all across Iran. They invited Chinese Muslims to the city of Qom and for a long time the Iranian government hid the spread of coronavirus in the country, especially at the time of parliamentary election, when they needed people to participate in voting. In some cases, regime hardliners who support the supreme leader reacted to the closure of holy places, opened the doors, and encouraged people to enter and participate in religious rituals in those places for healing. Instead of supporting doctors and nurses who have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the outbreak, the government encouraged and allowed Mullas who would spread their superstitions based on Islamic ideas—call it Islamic medicine—to visit hospitals and patients.  

The regime has handled the situation very poorly and adopted no measures to contain the spread of the virus—instead they tried to find another way to put pressure on people. For example, according to Farsi media, those who hide their symptoms would receive a one-year prison sentence. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has hoarded masks and other necessary supplies and sells them with a much higher price. Unfortunately, even the financial and medical help from the international community will not get to the Iranian people; the regime has control over all those supplies and uses them for their benefit. This week, the regime has encouraged and even forced a lot of people to participate in the funeral of Hossein Assadollahi, one of the former commanders of IRGC, at the time that most governments’ leaders encourage social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. Many Iranians, including Christians, have been very frustrated by how the regime has handled the situation. 

FRC: How are Iranian Christians feeling during the outbreak? What are they most concerned about?

Maryam and Marziyeh: Christians like other Iranians are concerned about how fast the virus is spreading across Iran and the poor handling of this situation by the regime. Christians are particularly concerned for their loved ones who are still in prisons; some of them are not known and no one knows anything about their conditions. We heard the coronavirus has spread among prisoners and there is a lot of concern that political and religious prisoners will be at higher risk if they remain in prisons. According to some news, only about seven Christians who were in prisons got released temporarily. Still, there are many more who are in prisons and at risk of getting sick.

FRC: How can the American church be praying for Iranian Christians—and all Iranians—right now?

Maryam and Marziyeh: A majority of Iranians believe that the Iranian regime is a bigger threat to the safety and security of millions of Iranians than the coronavirus. The terrible handling and poor management of the regime in this situation has led to thousands of deaths already. The regime has always been dishonest and put the regime’s supporters’ safety and security above all other Iranians. Iranians become happy these days to hear that some regime agents and Ayatollahs have died because of the virus. Millions of Iranians want to see the end of the regime that doesn’t care at all for their safety, security, and economic well-being.

The American church can unite with Iranians and pray that the Iranian regime will be overthrown and real freedom can come to Iran in the near future, because while this regime is in power, we will hear about a new crisis every day. Whether it is the regime’s mismanagement of flooding or earthquakes, shooting down a passenger airplane, killing thousands of protestors, or mismanagement of coronavirus, the Iranian people are suffering every day. Please pray for Iranians’ strength to be able to handle these difficult times. Also, please pray that the Lord will strengthen the Iranian Christians’ faith and give them courage and wisdom to share the Gospel with Iranians who need to hear the message of salvation these days. 

While the United States is occupied with news of the coronavirus at home, this health crisis is also affecting persecuted believers around the world, making their already tenuous situation more sensitive. As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, we must continue to pray and advocate for religious freedom in Iran and around the world.

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