Author archives: Arielle Del Turco

The U.S. Just Sanctioned the Mastermind Behind the Uyghur Crackdown

by Arielle Del Turco

July 9, 2020

The U.S. Treasury Department answered the plea of human rights activists on Thursday, imposing sanctions on four key individuals and one Chinese agency responsible for countless atrocities against the persecuted Uyghur Muslim minority in China. This is a major step in the U.S. government’s effort to address religious persecution in China.

The most well-known individual on the sanctions list is Chen Quanguo, often labeled the mastermind of China’s crackdown against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Chen originally gained fame within the Chinese Community Party due to his success in suppressing Tibet through security crackdowns. He was later put in charge of the Xinjiang crackdown, where he utilized the oppressive measures he’d developed in Tibet to control the Uyghur population.

Under Chen’s leadership, a web of internment camps was built in Xinjiang to hold 1-3 million Uyghur Muslims who remain arbitrarily detained. Survivors of the camps report accounts of torture, sexual abuse, and horrific living conditions. Yet, even outside of the camps, Uyghurs don’t escape the abusive grip of Chinese authorities. Facial recognition technology throughout Xinjiang tracks almost every move residents make. Last week, shocking reports indicated that local authorities limit population growth by forcing sterilizations, intrauterine devices, and even abortions on hundreds of thousands of Uyghur women.

Chen is directly responsible for the mass incarceration in Xinjiang, and the sanction against him is more than justified. 

Among a few other individuals targeted by these sanctions is the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, comparable to a police department. This is significant because it targets those who directly enforce China’s draconian policies against the Uyghur people.

The sanctions imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act are one of the more effective tools the U.S. has to address human rights violations around the world. They include freezes on U.S. assets, banning travel to the U.S., and prohibitions on Americans doing business with sanctioned individuals or entities.

Targeted sanctions are sometimes considered largely symbolic. But symbolism is important. Public naming and shaming matters to the Chinese government, which cares about its reputation on the world stage. Individuals who enforce human rights violations around the world should know that the U.S. government will notice and call them out on an individual basis. Global Magnitsky sanctions are important, but they are just one step that should be followed up with many more.

China Is About to Clamp Down on Hong Kong

by Arielle Del Turco

June 26, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on June 26 that the U.S. will impose visa restrictions on Chinese officials “responsible for eviscerating Hong Kong’s freedoms.” This is a good step for the people of Hong Kong desperately looking for a lifeline as they watch their freedoms get trampled by the Chinese government.

Last year’s pro-democracy protests, which captured global attention, initially targeted a proposed extradition law that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be extradited to mainland China and subjected to its corrupt judicial system. Yet, this year’s threat to Hong Kong’s freedom is much worse. China’s National People’s Congress is expected to ratify a sweeping new national security law for Hong Kong next week. Newly released details indicate the law will damage many of the freedoms Hong Kongers have long enjoyed, including religious freedom.

According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984, Hong Kong is meant to enjoy a high degree of autonomy for 50 years following the city’s return to China in 1997. With the new security law, Hong Kong’s autonomy—and the “one country, two systems” principle that has guided its government—is all but destroyed. The new law will allow Beijing to override Hong Kong law, establish a national security office in Hong Kong to investigate crimes, and enable Beijing to suppress protests or public opposition.

China is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights and religious freedom. So, what does Beijing’s encroachment into the legal system in Hong Kong mean for its religious communities?

Firstly, Christian pastors and clergy members who participated in Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill protests may be punished for their participation. Christians and Christian leaders played a pivotal role in pro-democracy demonstrations last year. The hymn “Hallelujah to the Lord” became an anthem for protestors. Meanwhile, Chinese officials insinuated that demonstrators were terrorists.

No dissent is tolerated in mainland China, and Hong Kong’s religious leaders who are vocal against Beijing may be extradited and tried under the new law. Christian NGOs are now expressing concern for outspoken religious leaders such as Cardinal Joseph Zen and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, who supported the pro-democracy movement.

Secondly, the new law might pave the way for Hong Kong’s Christian leaders to be silenced. According to an outline of the law released by Chinese officials, the national security concerns Beijing claims the right to address include secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.

China’s broad accusation of “subversion of state power” may sound familiar. At the end of 2019, well-known house church pastor Wang Yi, who led one of China’s largest unregistered churches, was sentenced to nine years in prison for “inciting to subvert state power.” Beijing uses this phrase, among others, as an excuse to lock away anyone who publicly objects to the government’s practices. Should Hong Kong’s pastors expect to be next?

Thirdly, in addition to harming believers in Hong Kong, this new law is likely to have negative effects on faith in mainland China. Christianity is a legally recognized religion. However, Christian churches that register with the Chinese government are pressured to adapt their religious beliefs to Chinese Communist Party values, including socialism. To avoid government interference, many unregistered house churches operate outside of regulation but lack resources and pastoral training as they try to practice authentic Christianity. For a long time, house churches on the Chinese mainland have found support from Hong Kong’s Christians.

Churches and pastors in Hong Kong provide Bibles, training, and financial support to house churches on the mainland. One study from 2014 found that over 60 percent of Hong Kong’s churches “engage in work on the mainland, illicit or otherwise, including preaching and theological training.” If Hong Kong Christians are subjected to the same so-called “national security” laws that put Pastor Wang Yi in prison for subversion of state power, this may cut off the support and resources Hong Kong pastors feel they can safely offer. For the mainland’s increasingly oppressed churches, support from Hong Kong is a lifeline they can’t afford to lose.

On June 25, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution introduced by Senator Josh Hawley which condemned Beijing’s national security law and called on free countries to stand against Beijing’s effort to destroy basic liberties and human rights in Hong Kong. The Senate also passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act which would impose sanctions on individuals, entities, and banks that aid Beijing’s campaign to control Hong Kong and destroy its autonomy. The U.S. House of Representatives should follow suit and swiftly pass the Hong Kong Autonomy Act and send it to the president’s desk.

When the National People’s Congress announced its proposed national security law, Beijing broke its agreement to allow Hong Kong autonomy. For Hong Kong residents who cherish their political and religious freedom, the effects will be widespread and devastating. As they fear for their future, U.S. officials must do everything within their power to support the people of Hong Kong. This city has long been a beacon of freedom and prosperity in contrast with Chinese authoritarianism. Chinese encroachment into Hong Kong is a tragedy for the free world, and it is one that the United States must not watch unfold silently.

An American Pastor was Finally Released from India. Hostility to Christians is Still on the Rise.

by Arielle Del Turco

June 15, 2020

American pastor Bryan Nerren was finally allowed to return home at the end of May after being detained in India for over seven months on a minor charge. “I am back with family and friends at home,” the Tennessee pastor told Morning Star News. “It is a wonderful time.” While his release is worth celebrating, the fact that the Indian government detained him for so long on such a minor charge signifies deeper religious freedom problems in the world’s largest democracy.

Authorities interrupted Pastor Nerren’s two-week trip to India and Nepal in October 2019, arresting him as he got off his flight in Bagdogra. Officials questioned him about failing to pay duty on $40,000—meant to fund two ministry conferences—that he brought with him when he arrived in New Delhi. 

But Pastor Nerren had done nothing wrong. He maintains he was never told to pay a duty. And he was not carrying enough money to be charged for evading tax duty anyways.

The real issue was his Christian mission. According to his lawyers, Indian officials “specifically asked if he was a Christian and if the funds would be used to support Christian causes.” After spending six days in jail, Pastor Nerren was required to pay a $4,000 fine. He was released but was banned from leaving the country.

The targeted interrogation about Pastor Nerren’s faith reflects a growing problem in India—the Indian government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is increasingly hostile to Christianity. Since the 2014 election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who rose to power with the BJP, things have been going from bad to worse for religious minorities.

Hindu nationalism advances the harmful narrative that “to be Indian is to be Hindu.” This belief implies that faiths other than Hinduism erode national unity.

Because they do not want Indians to convert to Christianity, Hindu nationalist leaders feel threatened by Christian missionaries and have, at times, been openly hostile to them. One former BJP politician called Christian missionaries “a threat to the unity of the country.”

In 2017, the Indian government cracked down on Compassion International, a Christian humanitarian aid group. Compassion International once provided food and medical assistance to around 145,000 Indian children. Yet, because the government was afraid it encouraged conversions to Christianity, the organization was forced to leave the country. The government’s hostility to Christianity had practical implications for impoverished children of all faiths. 

Just last week, India turned down a request for travel visas by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) which has wanted to review India’s religious freedom conditions. USCIRF, a federal commission tasked with advising the government on international religious freedom policies has been critical of India’s deteriorating religious freedom. In April, USCIRF’s annual report recommended that the U.S. officially designate India a “Country of Particular Concern” on religious freedom, clearly for good reason.

India is the world’s largest democracy, and the Indian government’s growing intolerance toward Christianity should be a concern that the rest of the world takes seriously. Facing discrimination from the government and mob violence from fellow citizens, Christians in India, many of whom are poor and marginalized, lack power to speak up for themselves. It falls to the rest of the world—including the United States, a strategic partner for India—to speak up on their behalf. 

We Must Never Forget the Tiananmen Square Massacre

by Arielle Del Turco

June 4, 2020

Every year for the past 30 years, crowds have gathered in Hong Kong on June 4th to light candles, hear from former Chinese pro-democracy activists, and mourn the infamous massacre of student demonstrators by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1989. This year, no legal vigil was permitted, but that didn’t stop thousands from bringing white candles to a Hong Kong park to remember the tragedy that came to be known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Hong Kong authorities refused to allow the annual public remembrance to be held this year, claiming to be concerned about the coronavirus, but such displays are always banned on the mainland. Many of the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong—who had long identified with those who called for freedom in Tiananmen Square—now fear the Chinese government is silencing Hong Kong dissenters much like they did in 1989.            

Beijing suppresses these annual memorials. Yet, the world must remember the tragedy that took place three decades ago because it reveals what the Chinese government is willing to do—even to its citizens: to squash perceived threats to its authority.

Thirty-one years ago today, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army fired live ammunition into crowds of their own people. Chinese civilians had been demonstrating in Tiananmen Square in Beijing for weeks, calling for a more democratic government. Their protests ended in a bloody crackdown that shocked the globe.

It is estimated that several hundred to several thousand people died that day, but an official death toll was never released. Family members of the deceased victims still beg for answers.

To this day, the Chinese government does not admit wrongdoing during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. When the government of Taiwan recently called upon Beijing to apologize for the violent crackdown three decades ago, a spokesman defended the legacy of communist party leadership. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declared, “The great achievements after the founding of new China fully demonstrate that the development path chosen by the new China is totally correct and in line with China’s national conditions.”

Yet, the often-violent legacy of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule is nothing to take pride in. Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution took drastic human tolls and denied the Chinese people basic human rights.

The Chinese government still withholds such rights from its citizens today. Among them is freedom of religion, a right intimate and fundamental to the human conscience.

In the northwestern region of Xinjiang, the government is in a full-on assault against religion. At least 1.8 million Uyghur Muslims are forcibly detained in internment camps where they are brainwashed and abused. Outside the camps, the rest of the region is patrolled with facial recognition technology and other means to tightly control the oppressed Uyghur minority.

Throughout the mainland, Christians are intimidated, and churches are surveilled as crosses are torn down from their buildings. Well-known house church pastor Wang Yi sits in prison serving a nine-year sentence—a grave reminder to other pastors that they ought not step out of line.

Perhaps most alarmingly, evidence is mounting that the Chinese government is forcibly harvesting organs from political prisoners. These are thought to be mostly from Falun Gong practitioners, a long-persecuted faith group entirely undeserving of the abuse they endure. 

The Chinese Communist Party may want the world to forget its ruthless history, but it is critical that we keep the memory of the Tiananmen Square Massacre alive.

The Tiananmen Square Massacre exposed the blatant disregard with which the Chinese Communist Party views human lives. This disregard is unfortunately not relegated to history—it still affects the Chinese people, including religious believers. Today, we remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre and its countless victims. But let us also remember those who continue to suffer under the Chinese government’s oppressive policies.

Iran Sends More Christians to Prison

by Arielle Del Turco

May 22, 2020

Four Iranian Christians are on their way to prison after a Revolutionary Court set their bail at the equivalent of $30,000 each—an exorbitant price they were unable to pay. The exact charges against these four—Moslem Rahimi, Ramin Hassanpour and his wife Kathrin Sajadpour, and another Christian who wishes to be anonymous—remain unknown. The charges are likely related to the Christians’ involvement in a house church, an act that the Iranian regime considers “hostile” to the state and to be connected to Zionist groups.

For Muslims in Iran, converting to Christianity is itself a crime. Iranian law stipulates that Muslim citizens may not “chang[e] or renouc[e] their religious beliefs.” The punishment for apostasy can include imprisonment or even the death penalty, though it is rarely carried out.

The four Iranian Christians converted to Christianity from a Muslim background, and are members of the same church movement to which Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani belongs. Pastor Nadarkhani has been in prison since July 22, 2018.

The Iranian regime classifies itself as an “Islamic Republic” and believes conversions away from Islam to Christianity undermines the regime’s authority. Consequently, Iranian Christians are often detained on trumped-up charges related to “national security.”

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh know what it is like to be imprisoned in Iran for their faith. In 2009, the two friends spent almost nine months in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. They had been charged with apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-government activity because they converted to Christianity and dared to share their newfound faith with their countrymen. Before authorities caught them, they had managed to hand out 20,000 copies of the New Testament.

In their book, Captive in Iran, Maryam and Marziyeh describe the many challenges faced by Iran’s political prisoners. Facilities are filthy, access to health care is inadequate, and the trauma of life in prison—including knowing others who are executed by the state—is overwhelming.

However, despite the regime’s best efforts to stifle the Christian faith, reports indicate that Christianity is rapidly spreading in Iran. House churches are flourishing, and the regime is unable to contain their growth. This should be a lesson to governments around the world, that individual faith cannot be controlled in the long run, and religious freedom is the best policy for a healthy society.

To hear Maryam and Marziyeh’s story and learn what it is like to live as a Christian in Iran, watch the video of FRC’s event, Stories from Iran: Religious Freedom and the Secret Growth of the Underground Church.

A “Blasphemous” Text Put a Pakistani Couple on Death Row. They’re Illiterate.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 21, 2020

Today, a married couple in Pakistan is languishing apart in separate prisons, unable to see each other or their four children. Shafqat Emmanuel remains paralyzed from the waist down following an accident in 2004. His wife, Shagufta Kausar provided for her family by working as a cleaner. Shafqat and Shagufta lived simple lives on a church compound before their world came crashing down and a years-long nightmare ensued due to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.  

The saga began in June 2013, when a Muslim cleric claimed he received a blasphemous text message from Shagufta’s phone. The cleric said he showed the text to his lawyer, and both subsequently claimed that they received more inflammatory texts from the phone registered to Shagufta. The alleged texts were written in English.

There are a few problems with this dubious story. Shagufta and Shafqat come from a poor background and are illiterate. They could not have crafted such a text in their native Urdu, and certainly not in English. The couple suspects the cleric’s accusation is retaliation for an argument between their children and their neighbors.

Nonetheless, authorities arrested the couple and charged them both with “insulting the Qur’an” (under Section 295-B) and “insulting the Prophet” (Section 295-C). These crimes are punishable by life imprisonment and death, respectively. In April 2014, Shafqat and Shagufta were sentenced to death, and they are still appealing the court’s decision.

Blasphemy laws are an affront to human rights, and Pakistan has proven to be one of the foremost abusers of these laws.

A new report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found that, as of December 2019, at least 17 people were on death row after being convicted on blasphemy charges.

Blasphemy laws prohibit insults to religion. Allegations of blasphemy made against religious minorities living in the Muslim world are often utilized to settle unrelated disputes. Religious minorities like Christians are particularly vulnerable to these accusations because of their marginalized place in society.

Unfortunately, blasphemy laws remain in many parts of the world. In its 2020 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that at least 84 countries have blasphemy laws, and even more have broad laws that are used to target speech deemed blasphemous.

The continued existence of blasphemy laws in so many countries makes this a global issue. Twenty-seven countries signed a statement of concern at last year’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held by the U.S. State Department, calling upon the governments that utilize blasphemy and apostasy laws to repeal them. The international community should continue to push for the end of blasphemy laws everywhere. It should be high on the agenda for the new International Religious Freedom Alliance spearheaded by the State Department.

Blasphemy laws restrict freedom of speech and freedom of religion—both fundamental human rights. No one should be put on death row for their faith.

To learn more about blasphemy laws around the world, check out FRC’s publication on Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Anti-Conversion Laws.

One Christian Family’s Story of Unending Persecution in India

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

May 14, 2020

For many westerners, India is an exotic travel destination, offering colorful cultural sites and warm-hearted hospitable people. However, thanks to the new Hindu nationalist leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), today’s India is increasingly marred by religious conflict and Christian persecution. The Purty family’s double tragedy serves as a sad example of this. And for some Indian Christians, their story is not so unusual.

Chamu Hassa Purty was a Christian pastor from Sandih village in Jharkhand State. Late one night in October 2015, he was asked to pray for a sick child. He rushed to the family’s home, prayed for the boy and helped the parents admit him to a local hospital.

Shortly after Pastor Purty returned to his own home, eight armed men forced their way into his house. He and his wife urgently warned their daughters, Sharon and Neelam, to immediately leave the house through a back entrance.

In an interview with Morning Star News, Sharon recalled, “As we were about to move, two of them held us and brought us back to the front room. They fired at my father many times…”

Pastor Purty died of gunshot wounds that night.

After the murder, the Purty family left their village and rarely returned. But recently, because of the coronavirus, it was necessary that they be reunited in their home.

And very soon thereafter, on April 16, anti-Christian terrorists once again appeared at the Purty house. Sharon and her younger brother answered the door and found themselves confronted by two gunmen.

Is this the house of the pastor who was killed?” one of the intruders demanded.

Sharon stared at him as he ranted, “That pastor was killed but you didn’t learn your lesson. You’re still assembling in large numbers for Christian prayers. And where’s the woman who’s working as a spy?”

There are no spies here…”

At that moment Neelam, hearing angry voices, entered the room. The gunman shouted, “She’s the one! She’s the spy!” He aimed his gun and pulled the trigger.

Our father was shot to death in that same room,” Sharon Purty said later. “We cried for help as the two gunmen jumped on a motorbike and fled.”

Neelam Purty sustained serious injuries and was bleeding heavily. She was rushed to a hospital, where it was determined that a bullet was embedded in her thigh and her thighbone was shattered. Only after major surgery was she able to begin her painful recovery.

The police were notified. Evidence was recorded. But it should come as no surprise that there have been no reports of the gunmen being apprehended.

Attacks like those against the Purty family are on the rise in India due to a dangerous ideology gaining steam in the world’s largest democracy—Hindu nationalism. It asserts that India is a nation for Hindus, marginalizing Christians and other minorities.

This movement often inspires mob attacks against Christians. Such attacks, when committed by Hindus, are rarely rebuked by the present Indian government, and the legal system often fails to bring perpetrators of mob violence to justice.

In one instance earlier this year, an Indian pastor was dragged out of his church mid-service by a mob of Hindu nationalists and beaten for hours. Yet when the police arrived, they charged the pastor with violating a blasphemy law rather than charge the radicals for their violent assault.

Even Indian laws pose a threat to minorities, though according to the constitution, India is a secular country. Yet, anti-conversion laws remain on the books in several Indian states. These laws are intended to prevent forced conversions. In reality, they restrict the right to change one’s faith and discourage conversion away from Hinduism.

Some Hindu nationalist leaders are deeply paranoid about Hindus converting to Christianity or other religions. One former member of parliament and member of the BJP party called Christian missionaries “a threat to the unity of the country.”

Inflammatory rhetoric from national leaders, a growing exclusionary movement that ostracizes religious minorities, and draconian blasphemy and anti-conversion laws form a perfect storm for the persecution of Christians in India.

India’s dire religious freedom problems deserves far more international attention than they receive.

India is the world’s largest democracy and a strategic partner of the United States, so it is disappointing its government is failing to protect the fundamental human right to freedom of religion. This makes advocating for religious freedom in India a sensitive subject for some. But the United States has prioritized religious freedom in our foreign policy and must urge all governments around the world—whether friend or foe—to protect it. The United States has an obligation to speak up on behalf of religious minorities in India, even if it ruffles the feathers of our ally.

For its Most Filthy and Dangerous Jobs, Pakistan Prefers Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

May 7, 2020

In Pakistan’s largest cities, an army of sewage cleaners plunges clogged sewers by hand, often surrounded by cockroaches and without the protection of gloves or masks. The work is essential to maintaining Pakistan’s shoddy sewage system. But it is also highly dangerous, and sometimes costs workers their lives. For sewage cleaning positions, the most hazardous and filthy of jobs, local governments prefer to hire Christians. Last July, one Pakistani newspaper advertisement was so obvious as to say that only Christians need apply for jobs as sewer cleaners.

I have seen death from very near,” Pakistani street sweeper Michael Sadiq told the New York Times. He described how his friend had died after getting swept away by “putrid black water” in the sewers.

Most Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan are descendants of lower-caste Hindus, who converted to Christianity by the thousands. The discriminatory legacy of the former Indian caste system haunts them to this day. Often derogatorily called “chuhras” by fellow Pakistanis, these lower-caste Christians are considered “untouchables” or “unclean.”

As some of the poorest people in Pakistan, Christians have limited options for work. They have high illiteracy rates and are often resigned to menial jobs as farmhands, sanitation workers, or street sweepers. But these jobs carry stigmas of their own, reinforcing cultural discrimination against them. According to International Christian Concern, at least 80 percent of Pakistan’s street sweepers, janitors, and sewer workers are Christians.

Street sweeping, like sewage cleaning, is a dangerous job thought to be too demeaning for Muslims. Last month, one Catholic street sweeper in Gujranwala was killed when he was hit by a police car in the road. The family is likely to face pressure to pardon the driver, as officers tried to compensate by giving the family an equivalent of $620 and hiring the man’s son to replace his father.

Cultural discrimination puts Pakistani Christians in real danger—in more ways than one. The vulnerable place that Christians occupy in society also leaves Christian girls disproportionately susceptible to human trafficking. The marginalization of Christians—and the difficulty they face rising out of poverty—makes them easy targets for foreign traffickers, who sell them as brides in China.

The government of Pakistan ought to address the stigmatization of Christians and ensure that religious minorities receive equal treatment in society. Pakistan’s religious discrimination leaves Christians and others vulnerable to real dangers. Pakistan’s government and culture must foster respect for religious freedom, or conditions for religious minorities will never get better.

Christians Met in a Private Chinese Home. Dozens of Officers Shut it Down.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 6, 2020

On May 3, dozens of local security guards and officers raided Xingguang Church, a Protestant church not registered with the Chinese government. The small group of Christians was singing hymns in a private home in China’s Fujian province when they were interrupted by authorities from the local Ethnic and Religious Bureau. These officers pushed their way into the house without warning and without proper legal documents.

Authorities insisted that the gathering was illegal. When church members started recording the raiding incident on their phones, the officers yelled at them to stop. When the officers saw that neighbors were also filming the incident, they removed the family for recording the raid.

Pastor Yang Xibo told Radio Free Asia, “The state security police came banging at the door, then they kicked it down and dragged those in the way outside the doorway, dragging them to the ground.”

This was not Xingguang Church’s first chaotic raid. Authorities previously raided the church on April 12, and accused the pastor of “violating several articles of the religious regulations.”

China’s regulations for churches are strict. Chinese President Xi Jinping has instituted efforts to “sinicize” Christianity. This means in order to get state approval, churches must amend their teachings to appeal to the values of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). One element of this long-term plan is “retranslating and annotating” the Bible to find its similarities with socialism and to discover the “correct understanding” of scripture.

To submit a church to the authority of the state-sanctioned church associations is to submit to the influence of the CCP. Churches that refuse to do so, like Xingguang Church, often face harassment from the government.

Last week’s report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that China raided or closed down hundreds of house churches in 2019. Catholic Bishops who refuse to join the state-affiliated Catholic association faced harassment and detention.

The status of religious freedom is not improving in China. At the end of December, Pastor Wang Yi, who had founded one of China’s largest house churches, was sentenced to nine years in prison—a harsh sentence and a clear indication that China’s assault on religious freedom continues.  

Worshiping in an unsanctioned house church can expose Christians to abuse by the Chinese government. Yet, millions of believers persist in gathering every week. All because they want to worship God as they see fit, even with the risks involved.

To learn more about the status of religious freedom in China, see FRC’s publication, Religious Freedom in China: The History, Current Challenges, and the Proper Response to a Human Rights Crisis.

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.

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