Author archives: Arielle Del Turco

On Religious Freedom Day, Let’s Recommit to This Fundamental Human Right

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

January 14, 2022

Each year on January 16, America observes Religious Freedom Day. Unlike many others, this observance wasn’t launched in the 20th or 21st century. Its first appearance dates back to a founding American document on the subject, penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1777. Less than 10 years later, the document was enacted into Virginia State Law, and later into America’s First Amendment.

Much of that amendment animates Jefferson’s views and visions for America:

…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

The First Amendment—approved by Congress on December 15, 1791—emerged from Jefferson’s writings, and the freedoms enshrined in it have become known as American “First Freedoms.” Thankfully—although not without increasing opposition—religious freedom continues to be the law of the land in the United States.

But unfortunately, as we observe Religious Freedom Day in 2022, much of the world increasingly rejects America’s point of view about religious liberty. In country after country, there are no such boundaries. And today, the two most vicious enemies of religious freedom globally are radical Islamism and post-communist regimes.

In the Middle East, Christians continue to be attacked by radicals and driven out of their historic homelands.

In Iraq, “Beginning in 2014, ISIS drove Christians from Mosul and their traditional homeland in the Nineveh Plains … From 1.5 million Christians in 2003, the Chaldean Catholic church now estimates a population of fewer than 275,000 Christians.”

In Iran, Islamist state authorities continue to arrest converts to Christianity on absurdly false charges. For example, Article Eighteen reports:

Christian convert Hadi (Moslem) Rahimi has begun serving his four-year prison sentence for “acting against national security” by attending a house-church and “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity.” The 32-year-old delivery driver, who has a nine-month-old daughter, turned himself in to Tehran’s Evin Prison on Sunday morning (9 January)…

Interestingly, despite ongoing marginalization, injustice and violence, innumerable conversions from Islam to Christianity in Iran continue to be reported, even being called a “Christian Boom.”

At the same time, across Africa, attacks on Christians are becoming increasingly violent and frequent. In Nigeria, massacres of Christians are being viewed by international observers as an unfolding genocide. Stories of massacres, mass kidnappings, and torched homes and churches are commonplace.

Meanwhile, in recent months, after America’s abrupt and ill-conceived departure from Afghanistan in August 2021, religious violence is skyrocketing. At the same time, it has become apparent that an underground Christian community, comprised almost entirely of converts from Islam, numbers as many as 10 to 12,000. The Taliban—Afghanistan’s radical new rulers—are systematically seeking out and killing those new believers along with other religious groups who do not conform to their extreme Islamist ideology.

In Pakistan, Christians and others are imprisoned on bogus “blasphemy” charges, often accused by neighbors as revenge for unrelated disputes. Even when those accused of blasphemy are acquitted or released on bail, they are in danger of mob violence. Such is the situation for  Nadeem Samson, who was released on bail on January 6, though his lawyer warns that “when Nadeem Samson is going to court he can be killed anytime.”

At the same time, post-communist regimes such as the Chinese government continue to marginalize religious beliefs that conflict with the state’s official atheist ideology. Well over a million Uyghur Muslims are held in internment camps and used as a source of slave labor. House church pastors such as Pastor John Cao are serving unwarranted prison sentences after being targeted due to their ministries. The country’s burgeoning surveillance state puts all citizens at risk as they are tracked for any actions that might be out of favor with the government—actions including going to church.

In North Korea, known Christians risk their very lives. Those who escape North Korea and are returned by Chinese authorities are particularly endangered as they are suspected of encountering Christian missionaries and churches in China. One North Korean defector said, “If you tell them that you went to a church and believed in Jesus, they would not stop at just beating you.” Other Christians are known to languish in harsh political labor camps with no prospect of ever being released.

Religious Freedom Day is an opportunity to pause and remember the profound importance of this right. As we continue to enjoy our own blessings and opportunities to share our faith, let’s remember those around the world longing to freely live out their faith.

Don’t Let Biden Off the Hook for the Disaster He Left in Afghanistan

by Arielle Del Turco

January 10, 2022

The media has largely moved on from the Afghanistan debacle, and many are all too eager to sweep the consequences of President Biden’s botched withdrawal under the rug. Yet, the repercussions will last lifetimes.

Currently, hundreds of parents and family members are seeking help for their starving children. Last year, the United Nations warned that one million Afghan children were at risk of starvation, and now many are struggling to make it through the winter.

On the best of days, Afghanistan has a near-universal poverty rate. Now, a famine and economic collapse are making it virtually impossible for many to meet their families’ basic needs. In sheer desperation, some parents are being driven to sell their young daughters into future marriages just so the family will have a few months’ worth of food. It’s an unthinkable choice—but one that some feel is their only chance to evade death by starvation when there is no work to be found.

One father’s decision has him in agony. He told CNN reporters that he could no longer sleep at night because he sold his nine-year-old daughter into marriage. The guilt and shame have “broken” him. Following unsuccessful attempts to find work, even traveling to the provincial capital, he said, “We are eight family members. I have to sell to keep other family members alive.” The money from the sale will feed the family for only a few months.

Sadly, the economic collapse in the wake of the Taliban’s rise was predicted and shouldn’t take Biden administration officials by surprise. The question now is how to respond.

The U.S. government is rightly being careful to avoid giving any financial aid to the Taliban. And although the United States donated funds through international humanitarian aid groups, Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, has pointed out that current aid levels are expected to meet only 40 percent of the anticipated needs to get through the winter months. The Biden administration should seek effective solutions to get substantial help directly to suffering Afghans.

When it comes to promoting religious freedom in Afghanistan, the U.S. government has always fallen far short. The past 20 years of U.S. involvement in the country failed to produce a cultural acceptance of religious freedom or pluralism. The consequences continue. And for the Afghan Christians most endangered by the rise of the Taliban, the Biden administration’s actions (and inaction) were shameful.

Although certain groups of Afghan nationals were given Priority 2 (P-2) designation for the U.S. refugee program—which allows more direct access for individuals to apply when they are at immediate risk—religious minorities were not offered P-2 status. This is in spite of the Taliban openly threatening religious minorities and the number of minorities who would have utilized the program being small and manageable. The Biden administration should fix this error and extend P-2 status to Afghan religious minorities.

When private NGOs tried to help vulnerable Christians, women, and others fleeing the Taliban, the State Department was accused of thwarting these rescue efforts. Josh Youssef, president of Help the Persecuted, helped organize refugee flights out of Afghanistan with endangered religious minorities. When he reached out to the State Department for help, he was told that he would have a better chance of the plane taking off if there were LGBT-identifying persons on board.

But religious minorities aren’t the only people with reason to fear. Amid the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights, many women who had public professions are scrambling to hide their identities. Female athletes are on the run, changing locations every few weeks to avoid being caught and punished by the Taliban.

Women who served in the Afghan military or police are also hiding. Samima, who served in the Afghan Air Force, fled to a new location with her husband after she received phone calls from Taliban fighters and the Taliban began going door to door looking for former Afghan military members. She told The Wall Street Journal, “Thousands of girls like me are receiving threats, face an uncertain future and are being tracked by the Taliban.”

Countless Afghan girls and female university students have been kept at home and out of school since the Taliban’s return. For many, their dreams were put on hold in 2021, perhaps permanently.

Meanwhile, there are still Americans who remain stuck in Afghanistan. Not to mention the countless Afghan allies who worked for the U.S. military and were promised protection in just such a circumstance as a U.S. withdrawal.

The White House would be happy for us all to forget that the grossly mishandled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan ever happened. But we must not. America spent 20 years involved in this country; the people of Afghanistan deserve better than to be abandoned and ignored in their hour of most dire need. Furthermore, the American people deserve far better leadership than President Biden has shown throughout this ordeal largely of his own making. By electing Joe Biden, Americans entrusted him with our foreign policy. The resulting human suffering in Afghanistan ought to be remembered as a grave stain upon Biden’s presidency.

China’s Tragic War on Uyghur Women

by Arielle Del Turco

December 17, 2021

Last week, an independent tribunal in the United Kingdom released a judgment that found the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur people to be consistent with the legal definition of genocide. Multiple governments have made the same pronouncement, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Belgium. But these countries didn’t release their legal reasoning or factual evidence. The Uyghur Tribunal did—and it is Beijing’s abuses against Uyghur women specifically that resulted in the tribunal’s judgment.

Days of public hearings featured witness and expert testimonies, and a team of international human rights lawyers, professors, and NGO leaders combed through the evidence. The evidence uncovered was then measured against the legal definitions of crimes against humanity, torture, and genocide. The Chinese government was found guilty on all three counts.

The suppression of the Uyghur ethnic and religious minority is nearly all-encompassing. High-tech surveillance watches their every move. Passports are systematically confiscated. At least 1.8 million Uyghurs are held in internment camps, and both detained and “graduated” Uyghurs are used as a source of forced labor. No Uyghur person escapes the consequences of Beijing’s brutal crackdown in the Xinjiang region. Even children are sent to be raised in state-run boarding schools. Yet, notably, the weight of China’s genocide is targeted toward women.

The Uyghur Tribunal determined that China was “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,” one of the methods of genocide outlined in the 1948 Genocide Convention. Earlier this year, the U.S. government came to the same conclusion.

Women bear the brunt of Beijing’s violent birth control policies in Xinjiang. One woman who worked at a hospital in Xinjiang in the late 1990s told the Uyghur Tribunal that approximately 100 women came for abortions every day, most sent by the government’s Family Planning Office and many in the late stages of pregnancy. She said that the aborted babies were disposed of in a garbage basket. Even after the end of China’s notorious one-child policy (and subsequent two-child policy), authorities in Xinjiang target Uyghur women for harsh sterilization and forced abortion policies.

Local authorities in Xinjiang are known to raid homes searching for children that surpass the government-approved limit. Gulnar Omirzakh, a Kazakh woman from Xinjiang, was required to have an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted after she had her third child. Then, in 2018, officials who showed up at her house in military attire required her to pay a $2,685 fine for having had a third child.

Uyghur and Kazakh women released from the internment camps say that they were given mysterious medication that stopped their menstrual cycles and impaired their minds. Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a woman who survived two years in a “re-education” camp, wrote in The Guardian that when a nurse required her to receive what she said was a vaccine, she was afraid they were poisoning her, but “In reality, they were sterilising us. That was when I understood the method of the camps, the strategy being implemented: not to kill us in cold blood, but to make us slowly disappear. So slowly that no one would notice.”

Another Uyghur woman who survived the camps told the Associated Press that officials inserted IUDs in every woman of childbearing age. At almost 50 years old, she pleaded for an exemption, but she was still rounded up with hundreds of other women who were herded onto buses and sent to receive IUDs at a hospital.

In a sick twist, the Chinese embassy to the United States tried to reframe forced sterilizations and abortions as “emancipat[ing]” Uyghur women so they are “no longer baby-making machines.” The women forced to undergo the trauma of abortion and sterilization likely don’t feel emancipated.

The effects of these policies are immense, and Chinese leaders have ambitious goals for this program. Researcher Adrian Zenz found that officials planned to subject at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in some rural areas of Xinjiang to IUDs or sterilizations by 2019. The devices used can only be removed by state-approved doctors. It is due in part to this effort that the Uyghur Tribunal stated genocide is occurring in Xinjiang. The judgment read:

The tools of its policy include sterilisation by removal of wombs, widespread forced insertion of effectively removable IUDs equating to mandatory sterilisation and forced abortions. These policies will result in significantly fewer births in years to come than might otherwise have occurred… This will result in a partial destruction of the Uyghurs.

By targeting Uyghur women, the Chinese government is committing what is perhaps the most horrific crime known to mankind. Yet, the voices of prominent feminists are conspicuously silent on the situation in Xinjiang. Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur activist who advocates for her sister currently detained in Xinjiang and for all Uyghurs, asks why that is. She wrote in Bitter Winter, “Where are the Hollywood icons who proclaim themselves to be advocates for human rights? Where are the feminists?” These are important questions.

The Chinese government is exploiting the unique ability women have to become pregnant and bring new life into the world. It is doing this to destroy—at least in part—the Uyghur people. Beijing’s abuses against Uyghur women are one of the most significant human rights crises of our time, and we should be talking about that.

Amid the Push for Faux “Rights,” Human Rights Day Reminds Us of What Matters

by Arielle Del Turco

December 13, 2021

On December 10, President Joe Biden followed in the footsteps of his predecessors by recognizing Human Rights Day, an oft-ignored date commemorating a critically important event in world history: the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Unfortunately, mission creep has plagued U.S. human rights advocacy in recent years, undermining the international human rights standards we have been blessed to inherit. Human Rights Day deserves to be acknowledged because the history of human rights is worth remembering, and its integrity is worth preserving.

The brutality and horrors displayed in World War II and the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany—most notably the Holocaust—demonstrated the need for a widely agreed upon understanding of the ways in which the human dignity of all people must be protected. And so, UN delegate Eleanor Roosevelt led a team of scholars and experts to draft a list of human rights, with regular input from the 58 member states.

This list needed to be such that all reasonable people—from the diverse cultures and norms represented in the UN—would agree to it. In the end, 30 rights and freedoms were agreed upon as being fundamental to humanity, and the UDHR became the guiding force for human rights advocacy.

Christian theologian Albert Mohler points out that the understanding of human rights inherited from Western civilization was “established upon the fact that we know from scripture that every single human being is made in God’s image and thus we are to recognize a dignity in every single human being. And we are to understand that that dignity implies certain God-given rights.”

The inherent worth of humans is what makes human rights important, and according to a Christian worldview, humans are important because they are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Christians understand that the capacity to reason is evidence of this. Article 1 of the UDHR complements this view and lays the groundwork for the rest of the document this way:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Among the rights listed in the UDHR are the right to life, liberty, and security of person (Article 3); the prohibition of slavery and servitude (Article 4); the freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile (Article 9); the right to own property (Article 17); and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Article 18).

Human rights are not granted by governments—they belong to everyone by virtue of their unalienable human dignity. Similarly, international human rights treaties and documents do not bestow rights. They merely reflect a commitment from party countries to respect those rights.

Thus, whenever a government violates human rights, it is acceptable for other governments to use persuasion and pressure to stop that country’s human rights violations. Doing so is not only right but also contributes to “freedom, justice and peace in the world,” as stated in the preamble of the UDHR.

When the U.S. government speaks up on behalf of Christians imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges or Uyghur Muslims detained in China on the basis of their religious and ethnic identity, this advocacy is not “interference” in the domestic politics of these countries. Rather, it upholds basic human rights—the same rights that all people are owed and all governments are obligated to respect.

Sadly, the international human rights project is in crisis. Ever-growing demands for the inclusion of additional “rights” muddle the priorities of human rights advocacy. These new “rights” often compete or conflict with others. And illegitimate claims to human rights have been used to push harmful policies. As former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback recently said, when “everything’s a human right, then nothing’s really a human right.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo similarly noted, “The bottom line is that more so-called ‘rights’ does not mean more justice. The constitutions of some of the most repressive regimes in history, such as the Soviet Union, promised a multitude of rights to their citizens while the regimes produced ever-climbing death tolls and daily deprivations.” The invention of new “rights” makes human rights advocacy incoherent and distracts from the fundamental rights laid out in the UDHR—the kind that the American Founders might have called “self-evident.”

The UDHR, in addition to founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, should anchor the U.S. State Department’s human rights advocacy. Invented “rights” motivated by partisan social agendas cause confusion and untethers U.S. human rights efforts from international human rights law. Instead of looking for new faux rights, the State Department should focus on addressing the multitude of fundamental human rights violations occurring around the world right now.

The “struggle for human rights” that Eleanor Roosevelt referred to is far from over. Just last week, an independent people’s tribunal in the United Kingdom issued a formal judgment finding the Chinese government guilty of crimes against humanity, torture, and genocide. Although the Uyghur Tribunal might have echoes of the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-46, the judgment of the Uyghur Tribunal concerns crimes that are ongoing, not yet relegated to the past. This is a significant moment that will test the free world’s commitment to human rights and the 1948 Genocide Convention that calls parties to the dual responsibility of preventing and punishing genocide.

With the monumental challenges occurring around the world, the stakes are too high to get this wrong. The Biden administration must focus on the rights laid out in the UDHR and avoid distractions. The United States’ leadership on human rights has made a difference in the past, and it still can.

Senator Rubio Takes a Stand Against Uyghur Forced Labor

by Arielle Del Turco

December 2, 2021

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is hitting a new snag in the Senate. This time over an amendment from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would block products made with the forced labor of Uyghurs in China from entering the United States.

It’s a common-sense provision that would protect American consumers from unknowingly taking part in Communist China’s human rights abuses. So, what’s the hold up?

Rubio explained the issue on the Senate floor yesterday:

In China in the Xinjiang Province, Uyghur Muslims are taken form their homes, from their families, they are forced to work in these factories as slaves. Forced to renounce their religion and change their names. Forced sterilizations, forced abortions. It’s been characterized—rightfully so—as genocide. So, I filed a bill—bipartisan support—and this bill says that any product that’s made in a factory in that part of China has a presumption that it’s made by slaves, and it passed the Senate unanimously; it’s sitting over in the House.

So, I’m trying to get it here as an amendment on this bill and here’s what happens: The House, they have this thing where they come forward and say, “under the Constitution, if it generates any revenue, it has to start in the House.” The problem I have with that is that they interpret it very differently than how the Supreme Court has interpreted that clause in the Constitution, very broadly, in fact, so broadly that they can basically use it on virtually anything. They can just apply it to anything they don’t like.

The argument from Democrats that the Senate cannot add this amendment because of revenue concerns is overblown. The Congressional Budget Office has stated that the language of this amendment would have “insignificant effects on direct spending and revenues.” A Rubio spokesperson said, “Democrats are creating fake procedural excuses to avoid a vote on slave labor.”

In July, the Senate unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which Rubio is now trying to include in the NDAA. And in the last Congress, the House passed a similar version of the bill by a vote of 406-3. Given its broad bipartisan support, this amendment shouldn’t be a source of contention. Yet, Senate Democrats tried to strike an amendment deal which would have ultimately excluded Rubio’s amendment against Uyghur forced labor. In response, Rubio blocked the deal.

Enraged, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Rubio’s efforts, “sad, tragic, and almost absurd.” But standing up against forced labor isn’t sad, tragic, or absurd at all. It’s the right thing to do. However, the fact that Democrats would rather have the NDAA held up again rather than include an amendment that would protect American consumers and vulnerable Uyghurs alike fit this description perfectly.

The White House has been pressuring Congress for months against bills that would promote human rights in China so that the administration can get Chinese leaders to cooperate on climate issues. This is shameful. The United States government shouldn’t be undermining its tradition of human rights advocacy, especially for fake climate promises from an authoritarian government that has no problem breaking its word. Congressional leaders should reaffirm its support for human rights in China despite the administration’s cowardice. 

Today, December 2, happens to be the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It’s an important reminder that not all people are free, and modern slavery in the form of forced labor, forced marriage, and human trafficking keeps many people in bondage. At the very least, we ought to make sure that we are not participating in forced labor ourselves through the products we import. Rubio’s amendment does exactly that. No petty excuse from Schumer or the Biden administration will ever justify Democrat’s opposition to it.

Nigeria Conspicuously Absent from State Department’s List of Religious Freedom Violators

by Arielle Del Turco

November 22, 2021

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the countries that the U.S. government considers Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) on account of their having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” As is the case with many State Department mechanisms, the CPC list is only helpful if the people in charge utilize it well. With this announcement, the Biden administration is failing to do this.

This year, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan all made the dubious list. And with good reason.

The Burmese military has been caught shelling churches, detaining pastors, and brutally attacking Christian communities. The North Korean regime detains Christians in political prison camps where they are often subjected to torture. Young Hindu and Christian girls in Pakistan are routinely subjected to forced marriage. These are just a few examples.

But this year, even more noteworthy than the countries that were included on the CPC list is a country whose CPC designation was removed by Blinken after former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated it a CPC last year—Nigeria.

Nigeria could hardly be more deserving of this designation. In the first half of 2021 alone, an average of 17 Christians were murdered for religious identity every day. In the country’s Northeast, Boko Haram and other Islamist terrorist groups routinely target Christian villages, churches, and individuals to be burned, attacked, and slaughtered. Fulani militants in Nigeria’s Middle Belt raid Christian villages, kill defenseless individuals, and take over their land.

Unfortunately, terrorism and religiously motivated attacks are concealed under the surface of the continent’s most populous nation. Elites in cities may try to act like these attacks are not the norm and protect Nigeria’s reputation. But for Christians in rural villages, the fear is palpable.

Nigeria’s religious freedom problems are obvious. In order for Blinken’s removal of Nigeria from the CPC list to be justified, it should have made significant improvements in its religious freedom conditions. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nothing has changed except U.S. leadership. It’s also significant that the removal of CPC status came one day before Blinken went to Nigeria to visit with state leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari.

David Curry, president of Open Doors, said the change “is not only a baffling error, it’s likely in direct violation of the International Religious Freedom Act, the law that requires these designations to be made in the first place.”

The CPC designation is the U.S. government’s official “worst of the world” list regarding religious freedom violations. Established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), a country’s CPC designation is intended to spur that country to improve its religious freedom conditions. It was meant to be accompanied by sanctions, but most countries are given waivers, supposedly due to America’s “national interest.”

IRFA also established the independent and bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which advises the State Department every year on which countries deserve a CPC designation. Yet, there is often a disparity between the countries that USCIRF recommends and the countries the State Department designates.

Sadly, the State Department continues an unfortunate habit of not adequately using the designation to hold foreign governments accountable for religious freedom violations. Notably, most of the countries on this year’s list are countries with which the United States already has a strained relationship. So, it stands to reason that one more criticism won’t hurt. It costs the State Department very little to call out the obvious religious freedom problems in countries like China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. However, the State Department declined to designate the additional countries that USCIRF recommended: India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam. These countries deserve more scrutiny from the State Department, and its own annual report proves that.

It’s easy to call out our adversaries, but our allies shouldn’t be exempt from criticism on their human rights records. Friends hold friends to a higher standard, and that should apply to strategic U.S. allies like India and Nigeria.

The fact that the State Department chose to remove Nigeria’s CPC designation, despite ongoing attacks against Christians, shows that the Biden administration doesn’t take religious freedom advocacy seriously enough. This goes against IRFA, which made religious freedom a foreign policy priority, and against decades of American tradition promoting human rights around the world. The Biden administration should swiftly reverse its decision and work with Nigerian leaders to help improve religious freedom conditions.

Enes Kanter Proves Professional Athletes Can — and Should — Stand Up to China

by Arielle Del Turco

November 18, 2021

The Boston Celtics’ Enes Kanter has been using his fame and social media accounts to publicly confront the Chinese government for its egregious human rights abuses. Over the past few weeks, the basketball star has released videos calling out “brutal dictator” General Secretary Xi Jinping for assaulting the rights of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, and Taiwan. Kanter’s advocacy on these issues is unusual for a professional athlete, especially given China’s large sports market. By speaking up, Kanter is proving that athletes can confront the world’s most powerful authoritarian government. More should follow his example.

Last week, Kanter told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that when he recently took to the basketball court with shoes painted with the slogan “Free Tibet,” NBA staff members pleaded with him to take them off. But when he asked if he was breaking any rules, they replied that he was not. Kanter kept the shoes on, but he was not put in to play for the duration of the game. In response to Kanter’s advocacy, Celtics games were cut from the Chinese streaming service Tencent, which pays the NBA more than $1 billion.

Kanter said NBA commissioner Adam Silver had sat down with him regarding his newfound advocacy. To his credit, Silver said the NBA would support Kanter. But Kanter expressed concern regarding how strong that support would truly be, noting that the NBA has not put out a statement defending his right to speak up for human rights. Regardless, this promise from Silver is an improvement over past NBA behavior. The NBA showed notorious cowardice in 2019 when it pressured Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey to retract a tweet he had posted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors. 

Of course, many professional athletes have spoken in favor of woke social campaigns in the United States, but Kanter is the first to target the Chinese government. Yet, Kanter isn’t new to confronting dictators. Kanter is Turkish and began speaking up against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arbitrary imprisonment of political dissidents years ago. In return, his Turkish passport was revoked, and his family members in Turkey were harassed by local authorities. Yet, even during years of speaking out about Turkey’s human rights issues, Kanter never encountered resistance from the NBA until he turned his attention to China.

Chinese leaders work hard to suppress criticisms of its human rights record, not just at home but around the world. Using access to the Chinese market as leverage over American businesses, the Chinese government seeks to shape international discourse in its favor. Hollywood studios change their movies to satisfy the Chinese government and show their films in the world’s largest movie market. American corporations are threatened with the loss of Chinese revenues if they do not lobby the U.S. Congress against bills that enhance America’s competitiveness.

Even American officials don’t demonstrate Kanter’s level of courage. Just last week, a reporter asked President Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry whether he raised the issue of human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang with his Chinese counterparts. He responded, “That’s not my lane.” Kerry is a high-level U.S. diplomat, and his “lane” is to represent America’s interests, which include the promotion of human rights. It’s irresponsible to do anything less. Yet, pressure from Kerry’s Chinese counterparts has sparked debate within the Biden administration about whether softer messaging on China’s human rights issues will secure a better climate deal with Chinese leaders. While the Biden administration wrestles with moral confusion, Uyghurs continue to suffer.

The tendency of American businesses and officials to shy away from confronting China makes Kanter stand out. But he doesn’t have to be alone. Kanter’s continued advocacy has not had negative professional repercussions so far. Even in the event that it does cost him, Kanter is ready. In a tweet addressing the Chinese Communist Party, he said, “You can NOT buy me. You can NOT scare me. You can NOT silence me.”

For China-focused human rights activists, Kanter is a breath of fresh air. One that is deeply inspiring and greatly appreciated. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen even thanked Kanter for supporting Taiwan’s democratic government. This should encourage other professional athletes and public figures to follow suit.

Despite widespread fear about speaking out against the Chinese government, Kanter proves that it can be done. Athletes can and should use their influence to advocate on issues that matter, even when that means standing up to a powerful regime known for bullying individuals and businesses around the world. For the victims of the Chinese government whose pleas for help are too often met with timidity or apathy, Kanter and others like him can do a world of good.

Biden’s State Department Slips Abortion into Human Rights Report

by Arielle Del Turco

November 16, 2021

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department made a minor change to its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Although the media largely ignored the move, the change adds to the ongoing shift in U.S. human rights advocacy taking place during the Biden administration. Its consequences could be far-reaching.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reinstated an Obama-era addition to the State Department human rights report—reporting on foreign countries’ laws and programs regarding abortion and contraception. The new addendum to the 2020 report released in March now features sub-sections on “reproductive rights” in the individual evaluations of every member country of the United Nations.

The term “reproductive rights” is code for abortion, and its use in official U.S. human rights reports is inappropriate. A “right” to abortion is nowhere to be found in international human rights law; meanwhile, the right to life certainly is. Now, American allies like Poland—known for being a great protector of human rights and champion of freedom—will receive a slap on the wrist at the hands of the State Department’s report for having pro-life protections. This is occurring even as authoritarian regimes like North Korea and China continue conducting forced abortions on vulnerable women, constituting a grave human rights abuse.

You might be thinking: how much harm can an annual State Department report that most Americans don’t even know about really do? As it turns out, a lot.

State Department reports set the tone for U.S. human rights advocacy and are frequently referenced by NGOs and international bodies. The topics that the United States chooses to cover in these reports conveys to the rest of the world what the United States considers human rights and what type of human rights issues our foreign policy will prioritize. These reports could also help guide discussions that U.S. diplomats have with their counterparts regarding human rights.

When announcing the reporting change, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, “We reaffirm our full commitment to promote and protect the sexual and reproductive health of all individuals, recognizing the essential and transformative role they play in gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment around the world.” This is a false and damaging narrative for women. Instead of leveling the playing field, legalized abortion pressures women into viewing their children as enemies of their success. Abortion is not necessary to ensure equality—having equal protections and rights under the law are.

Rather than monitoring (and by doing so, implicitly promoting) access to abortion around the world, the State Department should re-focus its efforts on addressing the truly pressing human rights abuses that are unique to women and girls. Currently, the forced marriages of young women from religious minority communities are all too common in Pakistan. Uyghur women in Xinjiang are being forcibly sterilized and undergoing devastating forced abortions. And Afghan girls are being sold by starving parents and barred from going to school. These are some of the serious human rights crises that women and girls are facing around the world today, and the State Department should be paying closer attention and taking action.

On his popular daily podcast, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, criticized the State Department’s inclusion of “reproductive rights” in its reports, saying, “It is a morally grotesque corruption of the idea of human rights… And it’s unhinged from any kind of understanding of the origin of rights coming from outside human beings ourselves.”

By their very nature, human rights preexist the state. They are not granted by governments; governments merely choose whether or not they will respect them. This preexistence is why diverse governments representing vastly different cultures can agree to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It is also why the United States and other free countries can confidently advocate for human rights around the world. It’s not an imposition on cultural differences to stand up for human rights. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment of the human dignity of each person. We advocate for human rights around the world because we aim to protect rights that every person already has by virtue of their humanity.

The rights recognized by the UDHR include freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; and the right to life, liberty, and security of person. The “right” to end the life of a preborn child through abortion clearly doesn’t belong in this list. The profound importance of human rights makes the promotion of new rights invented by activists or politicians inappropriate and damaging.

The United States must preserve the integrity of human rights advocacy in its annual reports and all other aspects of its foreign policy. We can start by making sure the State Department’s annual reports monitor what they purport to monitor—human rights.

Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan Oppress Another Victim

by Arielle Del Turco , Cristina Cevallos

November 10, 2021

Masih, an Arabic word meaning “messiah,” is a common family name among Pakistani Christians. One of them is Stephan Masih, a Pakistani man with a psychological disability. Sadly, Masih is one of too many Christians in Pakistan who has become a victim of the country’s blasphemy laws.

In March 2019, Masih and his family had a dispute with their Muslim neighbors. After the incident, a Muslim cleric accused him of committing blasphemy. The following day, an angry mob surrounded Masih’s home and set it on fire. Instead of arresting the assailants, local police filed a First Information Report against Masih for committing blasphemy and detained him.

Masih has remained in custody since June 2019 and has been denied medical treatment for his mental disabilities. The Lahore High Court is now scheduled to hear an appeal on his bail application (which was previously postponed) on November 10, 2021. Ahead of the hearing, a group of United Nations experts published a statement calling on the government of Pakistan to release Masih:

We call on the authorities [in Pakistan] to urgently review Mr. Masih’s case, and release and drop all charges against him, and ensure protection for him and his family… It is deeply alarming that a mere disagreement between neighbors could lead to the judicial harassment of an individual, based on his religious or other beliefs, and by the use of anti-blasphemy laws which may carry the death penalty.

Blasphemy laws, which prohibit perceived insults against Islam, can be enforced with harsh punishments. Section 295-A of the Pakistani penal code prohibits insulting “religious feelings.” Section 295-B states whoever “defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an” can be punished with life imprisonment. Section 295-C states that insults against the Prophet Muhammad and his family are punishable by life imprisonment or death. These laws are often abused in Pakistan to settle unrelated disputes with non-Muslims. Pakistani Christians, who account for just three million of the country’s 207 million population, are common targets.

Yet, it is not just the Pakistani legal system that uses blasphemy accusations to harm people. Even in cases where charges are not filed, mobs have formed to punish perceived violators of blasphemy laws. In Pakistan, at least 75 people have been murdered by mobs or individuals due to blasphemy allegations since 1990.

In Pakistan, extremists often interpret “insults” to religion to include questioning any tenets of Islam or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, including condemning Pakistan’s blasphemy law. This motivated Mumtaz Qadri—the bodyguard of Governor Salman Taseer—to assassinate his own employer after Taseer spoke up on behalf of Christian blasphemy law victim Asia Bibi and condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Islamic extremists then proceeded to threaten the life of Taseer’s surviving son for continuing his father’s advocacy for Asia Bibi, saying that by doing so, he was “equally involved in the crime.” 

One of the casualties was Pakistan’s minister of minorities affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. After raising concerns on this issue, he stated, “I was told I could be beheaded if I proposed any change, but I am committed to the principle of justice for the people of Pakistan… I am ready to die for this cause, and I will not compromise.” In 2011, two Taliban assassins sprayed the Christian official’s car with gunfire, striking him at least eight times, before scattering pamphlets that described him as a “Christian infidel.”

Blasphemy laws are a global problem. A report by Family Research Council found that at least 70 countries have blasphemy laws. The Pew Research Center found that in 55 percent of countries with blasphemy laws, the government also discriminates against religious minorities. In Pakistan alone, at least 17 Pakistanis were on death row for a blasphemy charge as of 2019. And once charged with blasphemy, it’s difficult for victims to prove their innocence and be released. In fact, because the death penalty is afforded to certain types of blasphemy, courts reject most bail appeals, citing the “severity” of the crime.

So, what can be done to press for the repeal of blasphemy laws and help the victims?

As a part of the United States’ tradition of advocacy for human rights and religious freedom, the U.S. government should prioritize the repeal of these laws. The State Department should also mobilize the Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance to release religious prisoners of conscience wrongly imprisoned for blasphemy charges.

Individuals can support organizations that advocate for these causes or directly send letters urging the authorities to take measures to ensure the safety of the accused, speed up their trials, and bring to justice those responsible for the extrajudicial executions.

Blasphemy laws continue to destroy the lives of hundreds of people just like Masih. The free world should not stop advocating until all blasphemy laws are repealed, and everyone is free to live out their faith and express their beliefs.

Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. Cristina Cevallos is majoring in law at the University of Piura in Lima, Peru.

House Democrats Want to Fund… Companies That Oppress Uyghurs?

by Arielle Del Turco

November 5, 2021

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have released their latest version of President Biden’s budget-busting reconciliation bill, taking it from bad to worse. This bill, nearing $1.75 trillion in new spending, covers programs that will fund abortions, imposes a one-size-fits-all approach to childcare, and now includes new language that would allow taxpayer funding to subsidize Chinese companies that engage in human rights abuses.

A previous version of the bill included a provision titled “Forced Labor Prohibition,” which stated:

None of the funds provided in this title may be used in awarding a contract, subcontract, grant, or loan to an entity that is listed pursuant to section 9(b)(3) of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (Public Law 2 116–145).

So, what type of “entities” are being referred to here? The provision above points to a section of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 that sought to identify Chinese companies that construct or operate the Xinjiang internment camps (which currently hold approximately 1.8 million Uyghur Muslims) or companies that provide or operate mass surveillance technology in Xinjiang.

The above provision would have blocked funds in the bill’s science, space, and technology program funding from going toward Chinese companies directly involved in oppressing the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. This is the region in China where the United States has officially determined that the Chinese government is committing an ongoing genocide against Uyghurs. The latest version of the reconciliation bill removed this provision.

Needless to say, blocking U.S. government funds from going to companies that are logistically facilitating the Chinese government’s totalitarian oppression in Xinjiang would have been a very good thing. It is also common sense.

But this isn’t Democrat’s first failure on this front. Reports indicate that the Biden administration is having fierce internal debates between those wanting to press China on human rights issues and those wanting to keep quiet in favor of securing China’s cooperation on climate change. This is deeply concerning. We should never be pressured into silence regarding the things that matter most.

The fact that this provision was removed is hardly the only thing wrong with the current reconciliation bill. But it’s problematic enough on its own.

Why anyone in the House would want to remove such a provision—and thereby possibly allow funding to go towards human rights abuses—is baffling. American taxpayers should never be made to fund foreign companies that are facilitating atrocities. The American people deserve better, and their representatives in the House should be looking out for their interests.

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