Author archives: Arielle Del Turco

Kim Jong Un Encourages Workers to Maintain “Communist Faith”

by Arielle Del Turco

June 2, 2021

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un recently encouraged workers to build up their “communist faith.” In a letter released by North Korean state media last month, Kim wrote to a federation of trade unions, claiming that such communist faith is required to attain the utopian society supposedly possible in the world’s last true communist dictatorship.

But placing faith in the totalitarian Kim regime has not worked out for North Koreans in the past. In the 1990s, North Koreans had become accustomed to certain provisions by the government. But when a famine hit and the government could no longer provide food for the people, mass starvation and death followed, claiming as many as three million lives.

Some North Koreans crossed over the border with China in search of food, and some found spiritual sustenance as well. Missionaries from South Korea traveled to China’s border region to aid desperate North Koreans, offering them food, shelter, clothing, and sharing the gospel with them.

Missionary outreach from the 1990s is one of the main ways Christians in China today heard about Christ. To this day, North Korea remains the most isolated country on earth. There is no free access to information. It is particularly dangerous to be caught with religious materials. One defector suggested that murderers have a better chance escaping punishment than someone found to be in possession of a Bible.

Recently, North Korean defectors Yeonmi Park and Cherie Yang answered questions about their experiences in North Korea on YouTube. When the subject of religion came up, Yang recounted that her first experience in a Western church made her uncomfortable because it reminded her of the enforced adoration paid to the Kim family dictators in North Korea. She said that Kim Il Sung (Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the founder of North Korea) adopted songs praising himself similar to worship songs praising God that might be heard in a Christian church.

The North Korean regime transformed the country into an atheistic society as it set out to eradicate religious belief, driving the church far underground. But that was not enough. Kim Il Sung, along with his son and grandson after him, positioned themselves as gods, requiring the praise of their people. This is an unspeakably cruel and ultimately ineffective course of action. No “communist faith” or worship for a dictator will create a utopian society in North Korea or anywhere else.

The North Korean people deserve to be free—to practice their religion, to speak their opinions, to access information, and to have a say in their system of governance. Those of us in the free world should not stop advocating and praying for the North Korean people until the day that becomes a reality.

Courageous Faith in China’s Early Rain Church

by Arielle Del Turco

May 26, 2021

Earlier this month, Preacher Wu Wuqing was arrested just hours after he officiated a funeral service in Chengdu, China. Authorities accused him of “disturbing public order.”

This was not Wu’s first run-in with authorities. He belongs to Early Rain Covenant Church, a church now internationally known for being targeted by the Chinese government. Though he was released later that evening, Wu has been threatened and intimidated many times for his service to his church and his community.

Authorities have at times cut his home’s access to utilities and they warn that things will only get worse for him if he continues his work. But Wu does not plan to back down, just as other members of his church have not stopped boldly proclaiming the gospel despite other instances of intimidation, arrest, and even long-term imprisonment.

The more than 500 members of Early Rain Covenant Church comprise one of the most influential house churches in China. Unashamed of their faith, these Christians do not bother to keep a low profile, although their status as an unregistered church makes them vulnerable to being shut down at the whim of the government.

Early Rain even runs a seminary and a Christian school, in addition to ministries that serve the most marginalized in society, including orphans, the families of prisoners of conscience, and the unborn.

The trailblazing streak of this impressive church grew under the leadership of Pastor Wang Yi. When Wang Yi converted to Christianity in 2005, he was already a prominent lawyer, public intellectual, and professor known for his human rights work. In 2006, he was even invited to the White House to meet with George W. Bush along with two other notable Chinese Christians. In 2011, Early Rain Covenant Church installed this former firebrand lawyer as their pastor.

As a pastor, he did not cower from the possibility of backlash from the government. He often spoke out in favor of religious freedom and against abortion, participating in local pro-life campaigns. China is still suffering from the painful consequences of the former one-child policy, and though that has eased to allow for two children, China still has the largest number of abortions in the world.

Pastor Wang knew that there was a strong possibility that he would one day be arrested. He prepared for that eventuality by writing a document he titled “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience.”

His congregation was instructed to release the declaration if he were ever detained by the government for more than 48 hours. On Sunday, December 9, 2018, Pastor Wang, his wife, and more than 100 members of Early Rain Covenant Church were arrested.

By December 12, the published declaration had begun to inspire Christians around the globe. It offers a beautiful description of what he terms “faithful disobedience,” contrasting his actions from political activism or civil disobedience. He wrote:

I firmly believe that the Bible has not given any branch of any government the authority to run the church or to interfere with the faith of Christians. Therefore, the Bible demands that I, through peaceable means, in meek resistance and active forbearance, filled with joy, resist all administrative policies and legal measures that oppress the church and interfere with the faith of Christians.

I firmly believe this is a spiritual act of disobedience. In modern authoritarian regimes that persecute the church and oppose the gospel, spiritual disobedience is an inevitable part of the gospel movement.

He was secretly tried at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court on December 26, 2019. On December 30, Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced to 9 years in prison for the false charges of “illegal business activity” and “inciting to subvert state power” and fined 50,000 RMB.

It was a harsh punishment that surprised even the most cynical China hawks. Pastor Wang was far from a national security threat. Upon his arrest, the congregation of his church released a statement emphasizing this. They testified that Pastor Wang “has taught that even when the church is being persecuted, Christians should be willing to submit to the government’s physical restrictions of them as well as to the depravation of their property.”

The national security charge of “inciting to subvert state power” is familiar to many Chinese dissidents. Regularly abused in China, this charge is now utilized by the Chinese government against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong since it passed an oppressive national security law for the city.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party often feels threatened by anyone who publicly disagrees with the state or even pledges allegiance to authorities outside of Party control, and that includes God. This makes dissidents—and sometimes people of faith who refuse to comply to state regulation—perceived opponents of the state itself.

Today, Pastor Wang remains in prison. The Chinese government is likely to continue making the lives of Early Rain church leaders and members harder. But this congregation is unlikely to fold. They haven’t so far, and the eternal hope provided by their faith is something that no government can snuff out.

4 Reasons Why the Founders Valued Religious Freedom

by Arielle Del Turco

May 10, 2021

Contemporary debates over proposed legislation like the Equality Act and over COVID-19 church restrictions draw attention to the so-called “first freedom” listed in the Bill of Rights—religious freedom. This core right in the U.S. Constitution has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and passed down to contemporary Americans intact.

But as debates over how Christians and those of other faiths should live out their faith in the public square increase, questions about religious freedom will remain relevant. Understanding how religious freedom became a core value of the American Founders is critical to understanding its place in the United States today.

Here are four reasons that Americans in the Revolutionary era valued religious freedom and protected it for future generations:

1. The truth concerning religion is deeply important.

In advocating for religious freedom, its proponents did not embrace moral relativism. Isaac Backus, a Baptist preacher, argued that it is precisely because there is objective truth concerning religion that every individual deserves the freedom to discover that religious truth for themselves. Backus wrote:

The true liberty of man is, to know, obey and enjoy his Creator, and to do all the good unto, and enjoy all the happiness with and in his fellow-creatures that he is capable of; in order to which the law of love was written in his heart, which carries in its nature union and benevolence to being in general, and to each being in particular, according to its nature and excellency, and to its relation and connection to and with the supreme Being, and ourselves.

For Backus and others of his day, part of the definition of liberty itself is the freedom for an individual to “know, obey and enjoy his Creator.” Thus, policies protecting the ability to seek religious truth were a natural extension of this understanding of truth and the freedom to pursue it.

2. Respect for individuals’ consciences.

Former diplomat Tom Farr argues that human nature “impels us to seek answers to profound questions about ultimate things. If we are not free to pursue those answers… we cannot live a fully human life.” Many of the American Founders understood religious freedom in much the same way.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1776, was drafted by George Mason and was influential when Thomas Jefferson was drafting the Declaration of Independence. The Virginia Declaration of Rights stresses the importance of religious freedom to each individual’s conscience:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

The declaration affirms the importance for all individuals to choose their religious beliefs for themselves, according to the “dictates of conscience.” This highlights how the lack of religious freedom is a very personal assault on the rights of every individual. It is wrong for the government to try to control what goes on in someone’s head, heart, or soul.

John Leland, a Baptist minister, argued for robust conscience protections and asserted that the state had no right to be involved in religion in part because every individual must make himself right with God and no government can answer for the souls of men. In 1791, Leland said:

It would be sinful for a man to surrender that to man which is to be kept sacred for God. A man’s mind should be always open to conviction, and an honest man will receive that doctrine which appears the best demonstrated; and what is more common than for the best of men to change their minds?

Creating a political order with a state-established religion is not fair to the children and grandchildren who will come later because it may violate their conscience, which was not free to choose their faith since it was mandated by the government.

3. Establishment of religion is harmful for religion.

Many early American pastors were at the forefront of societal protests against the establishment of religion. They did so not for secular but religious reasons. Backus famously argued that a legally established religion or church corrupts “the purity and life of religion.”

Many religious leaders promoted religious freedom not just because the freedom to believe affects the conscience of individual Christians, but because the state establishment of religion can have negative affects on the established religion itself. When a state forces religious practice, it waters down churches with individuals who do not truly believe but rather are practicing the faith externally because they are compelled to do so.

Utilizing the force of government to require individuals to practice a religion is ineffective at making true religious believers. In 1675, William Penn said, “force makes hypocrites, ‘tis persuasion only that makes converts.”

Religious persecution doesn’t only harm those outside the religious majority, it harms the authentic practice of the majority religion. This makes the establishment of a state religion not only pointless, but also oppressive and detrimental to the religion the government associates with.

4. All people are equal under the law.

George Washington affirmed the inherent natural right to freedom of religion in a letter to a Jewish congregation. While president, he told the congregation, “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Washington strongly repudiates religious persecution and emphasizes the equality of all religious groups and believers under the law.

***

The embrace of religious freedom has contributed to what makes the United States unique in the world. Wherever religious freedom is not protected around the world, oppression and misery clouds society.

The world is better off because of the successful example of religious freedom that the United States has set. America’s promotion of international religious freedom has released religious prisoners, rebuilt religious communities devastated by genocide, and offered hope to the oppressed.  

This serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining religious freedom here at home. Our Founders enshrined robust religious freedom protections into law because they believed everyone’s right to seek the truth and live according to their beliefs was deeply important. This is worth protecting—for ourselves, for future generations, and for those around the world relying on our advocacy on their behalf. 

Beijing’s War on the Bible

by Arielle Del Turco

May 5, 2021

The Great Firewall allows the Chinese government to censor any content it feels does not suit its purpose. Their latest target is the Bible. Bible apps have been removed from the App Store in China. It now requires the use of a virtual private network (VPN) to download Bible apps in China.

Popular Christian accounts on the Chinese app WeChat were also recently removed. Users who tried to access the social media pages saw a message that the pages had violated “internet user public account information services management provisions.” Others report that Bible apps have been entirely removed from the platforms of Chinese tech companies Huawei and Xiaomi.

Physical Bibles are also unavailable for purchase on Chinese websites. In March 2018, China’s largest online stores, including Taobao, Jingdong, Amazon.cn, and others, suddenly stopped showing results for searches for the Bible.

In December 2020, four Chinese Christian businessmen from Shenzhen were tried in court for selling audio versions of the Bible online. The businessmen were arrested as part of a campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.”

Earlier that same month, Christian businessman Lai Jinqiang was tried in Shenzhen on charges of “unlawful business operation” for his business which sold audio Bible players. His company, the “Cedar Tree Company,” reported the highest sales of audio Bible players in China, distributing around 40,000 units per month.

Instead of allowing people to choose what they will read and how they will access their religious texts, China requires that all Bible sales be funneled through official channels only. Bibles can be purchased at state-approved church bookstores regulated by the government.

Even worse than suppressing the Bible is the Chinese government’s attempt to change the Bible. As a part of its five-year plan to sinicize religion and make it more acceptable for the goals of the government, one strategy is “reinterpreting the Bible and writing annotations for it” from a socialist viewpoint.

Though the full text has yet to be revealed, the Chinese government’s previous manipulation of the Bible has been bizarre. In one textbook at the government-run University of Electronic Science and Technology, John 8 was shamefully distorted.

In the biblical version, an adulterous woman is brought to Jesus, and her accusers ask if she should be killed by stoning for her sins. Jesus disperses the angry crowd with his response, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (ESV).

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) version states that the crowd leaves, yet Jesus tells the woman, “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead,” before stoning her himself. This retelling of a famous biblical passage proves what should be obvious—communists can not be trusted to re-translate the Bible.

Former communist countries have a long history of hindering access to the Bible. Missionaries like Brother Andrew famously served persecuted believers living under communist repression in the Soviet Union. Now, the CCP continues the legacy of communist crackdowns on the Bible.

As its attacks on the Bible continue to mount, the Chinese government should know they will never succeed. No earthly forces can crush the power of the gospel and the hope it has brought to millions of Chinese believers. As the Chinese government continues in its futile and oppressive efforts, American leaders should be bold in articulating that it is unacceptable for any government to control, suppress, or manipulate its people’s access to the Bible.

Religious Freedom is a Matter of Human Dignity

by Arielle Del Turco , Mary Szoch

May 4, 2021

A new report by Aid to the Church in Need found that religious freedom was not respected in 32 percent of the world’s countries. Furthermore, approximately 5.2 billion people live in countries that experience serious violations of religious freedom, including populous countries such as China, India, and Pakistan. Christians in all three countries face a certain amount of risk for simply living out their faith in the public square. 

Such concerning numbers warrant attention. Yet, we can tend to take concepts like “religious freedom” for granted and fail to grasp the full significance of this fundamental human right.

At its core, religious freedom is the freedom to choose and change one’s religion and to live in agreement with those beliefs. Attacks on religious freedom target one’s conscience—the very core of their being, making it uniquely important that religious freedom be protected.

Protecting religious freedom is essential not only because it is a fundamental human right but also because it is a vital component of respecting human dignity.

Humans are inherently drawn to seek out answers to life’s biggest questions and to find meaning beyond this temporal existence. As a being with an innate sense of right and wrong, man is led to continuously search for truth. Seeking truth is an expression of freedom, which is what makes man unique.     

While man cannot be forced to contemplate truth, humans are unique precisely because no other creature has the ability to do so. Though some may choose not to embark on the quest to find truth—all men have a right to do so. Allowing a person to live according to his pursuit of truth is fundamental to acknowledging that person’s participation in the human species—respecting the search for truth is foundational to respecting a man’s dignity. To do otherwise would be to treat man as less than human.        

Man’s determinations regarding truth lead to both interior and exterior expressions of deeply held beliefs. While the path to discovering truth is certainly, at times, a personal journey—it is not exclusively so. The connection with others who are also pursing truth is a natural and necessary component of this journey. Thus, the answer to the question, “what is truth?” is often found through religion.

For Christians, the concept of Imago Dei, taken from Genesis 1:27, refers to the fact that every human person is created in the image of God—who is Truth. Because we are created in the image of Truth, we long to find truth.  

While only Christians identify this search for truth as a component of being made in the image of God, this reality extends to people of all faiths as well as those of no faith. All people, because they are made in the image of God, possess inherent worth and deserve to be treated as such.  

For a government to fully affirm the dignity of the human person, it must allow individuals to live out their faith in the public square according to their conscience without government restrictions or social harassment. As James Madison expressed, man’s duty to search for truth, man’s duty to God, comes before man’s duty to government; thus, the government has the duty to respect man’s pursuit of truth.

Christians should advocate for religious freedom for all people because any effort to coerce individuals to believe or abandon any faith violates the conscience of a precious person created in God’s image who is deserving of respect.

In the United States, we are fortunate to have robust constitutional protections on religious freedom and founding documents that affirm basic rights. The Declaration of Independence recognizes the God-given equality of each and every human person, and the “unalienable rights” that flow from that. Let’s pray that human dignity is advanced through the expansion of religious freedom to people of all faiths in all countries of the world.

4 Tips for Praying for the Persecuted

by Arielle Del Turco

April 13, 2021

Global persecution of religious believers is an immense and complex problem with diverse causes, legal factors, and cultural and historical dynamics. This can make the scriptural mandate to remember and pray for persecuted believers an intimidating task. But it shouldn’t be.

Here are four tips to keep in mind when you pray for the persecuted.

1. Pray for specific people, countries, and situations. 

When you know of a specific person abused or imprisoned for their faith, pray for them by name. Consider the cases of Huma YounusWang Yi, and Leah Sharibu.

When you don’t know of individuals in need of prayer, pray for situations. Pray for Christians facing blasphemy charges in Pakistan, for young girls held hostage by Boko Haram in Nigeria, for Christians detained in labor camps in North Korea, or churches in China facing harassment from the government. Voice of the Martyrs has a convenient Global Prayer Guide with a summary of the challenges in every country with laws targeting Christians and countries where Christians experience dangerous social hostility.

There are hundreds of thousands of persecuted believers whose names the outside world may not know and may never know. Yet, God knows their names and the trials they have suffered for Him. It’s okay, and beneficial, to pray for the persecuted even when we are unaware of specific situations. These people need our prayers as well.

2. Consider what you might want prayer for if you lived in a persecuted context.

Many Christians live in a country where it can be dangerous to follow Christ. Open Doors estimates that 340 million Christians live in such places. Not all methods of persecution are life and death. Many are relatable. Christians may be facing discrimination in employment, as many do in Pakistan. Or, they may be attending a church service on a religious holiday with a gnawing fear of an attack, the likes of which are all too common in the Muslim world. Or, they may live in a restrictive country where they are afraid to share their faith.

Depending on the context, pray for persecuted believers the way you would want someone to pray for you if you were in the same situation. Pray that God would meet both their physical and spiritual needs.

3. Pray that religious freedom would become the universal standard across the globe.

In addition to praying for persecuted individuals and situations, pray for greater religious freedom around that world.

Further, pray for the leaders of other countries that persecute believers—that they would have a change of heart and that their plans to oppress religious groups would be thwarted. Also, pray for the leaders of free countries, including the United States—that they would be given effective policy ideas and solutions to advance international religious freedom.

4. Remember why we pray for the persecuted.

Scripture calls Christians to remember and pray for the persecuted.

In Ephesians 6:18-20, the Apostle Paul instructs believers to “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

In this passage, Christians are asked both to pray for all other Christians as well as to pray for Paul, who was imprisoned for his ministry at the time he was writing. In prison, Paul was concerned for his Christian witness and requested prayer that he would have the right words to use. Similarly, we can pray that missionaries and believers in persecuted contexts would represent Christ well with their words and actions and be granted wisdom to operate in their contexts.

Praying is also a significant way to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31). Like Paul, many persecuted Christians express a desire to know that others are praying for them and remember them. American pastor Andrew Brunson felt this way while he was held in a Turkish prison for two years. Consistent prayer is a meaningful way to treat people the way we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).

If you are still unsure of how to pray for persecuted believers, feel free to draw from this sample prayer:

Father God,

I ask that You would comfort and protect Christians around the world today who are intimidated, detained, and attacked for their belief in You. Please give them the physical strength and spiritual endurance to withstand persecution. Be present with them in their hardship and remind them to find peace in You. I pray that You would use the situations that their persecutors intend for evil for good.

I thank You that You give us all the freedom to follow You and that You beckon us with love. I ask that there would be greater religious freedom around the world and protections for those who wish to live out their faith. Please show me how to better serve You and the precious members of Your church suffering for Your name. Amen.

Why Is Religious Freedom So Uniquely Important?

by Arielle Del Turco

April 12, 2021

At the heart of many recent contentious debates from the Equality Act to COVID-19 church restrictions is the issue of religious freedom. But what exactly is religious freedom, and what makes it so uniquely important?

At its core, religion is the search for truth about questions of ultimate meaning. Common to most religions is an organized collection of beliefs, behaviors, and practices that connect or relate humanity with the divine. Religious freedom, then, is the freedom to believe what you want in terms of doctrine and theology and the freedom to order your life according to your deepest convictions about ultimate things.

In other words, religious freedom protects the ability of individuals to choose and change their religious beliefs and align their lives in agreement with those beliefs.

Religious freedom is not relativistic, nor does it profess there is no truth about God. Rather, it affirms the deep importance of truth and upholds the right of individuals to come to their own conclusions about what is true of God, humanity, and the world.

Attacks on religious freedom target one’s conscience—the very core of their being. This makes religious freedom a unique and essential right. Tom Farr says, “Our nature impels us to seek answers to profound questions about ultimate things. If we are not free to pursue those answers, and to live according to the truths we discover, we cannot live a fully human life.”

Thus, religious freedom is not merely the right to attend church and practice your religion within the walls of a church, synagogue, or mosque. Rather, it is the ability to live out your faith, including in the public square.

This broad conception of religious freedom is enshrined in the United States Constitution. The First Amendment protects this basic right, often called our “first freedom.” The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Beyond this key constitutional protection, religious freedom is also a fundamental human right, one recognized by international resolutions and treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

Religious freedom is a widely recognized right around the globe. Yet, laws in many countries put qualifiers on the legal right to religious freedom, empowering governments to crack down when the beliefs of a community or an individual are perceived to oppose the government.

For Americans, these aggressive international violations remind us of the importance of protecting religious freedom at home. Yet, they also demonstrate the importance of promoting religious freedom in our foreign policy.

Societies that embrace religious freedom and pluralism tend to be more prosperous and secure. This makes sense. Societies that embrace individuals’ freedom to express their own viewpoints and live according to their beliefs are going to attract, rather than repel, talented people abroad as well as global economic engagement. Pluralistic societies that value human dignity and do not view religious groups or beliefs as a problem to be eliminated will not suffer from the violence that is fostered by religious discrimination.  

Religious freedom corresponds with and affirms other basic freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The right to openly express your most deeply held beliefs is essential to religious freedom, as is the right to peacefully assemble in houses of worship and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the concept of religious freedom is often misunderstood. This is seen with increasing frequency with activists who pit religious freedom against the demands of the moral revolution. For example, those whose beliefs about gender and sexuality are influenced by their faith are caricatured as intolerant and their beliefs are perceived as subversive. The resulting tension threatens to erode support for religious freedom as a freedom that benefits everyone—religious and non-religious.

Amid increasingly heated cultural debates, it is critical for those who value our first freedom to affirm its importance. Religious freedom will not endure by laws alone, although the law should include robust protections for religious freedom. Religious freedom also relies on cultural support.

By consistently living out our faith in the public square, we can foster a culture that respects religious freedom. So, pray in public, share your faith, and do not compromise your beliefs. Your constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion protects your ability to live according to your convictions. So, use it. Live according to your faith and defend the rights of others to do the same.

Yet Another Christian Teenager in Pakistan is Trapped in a Forced Marriage. It’s Time to Act.

by Arielle Del Turco

March 24, 2021

When 13-year-old Shakaina Masih’s mother arrived to take her home from the job at which she helped with housework, she was informed that her daughter had already left. When Shakaina never showed up, concern soon became alarm as her parents urgently filed a missing person report. After initially delaying to respond, police informed Shakaina’s parents that she had converted to Islam and married a Muslim man last month.

Devastated to learn that their teenage daughter was supposedly married to a man whose name they had never even heard, Shakaina’s parents believe she was abducted. “Shakaina is just a kid,” Shakaina’s father, Johnson Masih told Morning Star News. “She was kidnapped and taken to Okara, where they forcibly converted her and conducted the fake marriage to give it a religious cover.” Many Christian parents in Pakistan fear exactly this occurrence—and it is all too common.

Hundreds of girls from Christian and Hindu backgrounds are kidnapped each year and forcibly converted before being raped and often forced to live as their abductor’s wives. Widespread discrimination and the government’s failure to protect religious freedom creates an environment that enables this horrific practice to thrive. Islamic clerics who solemnize underage marriages, magistrates who make the marriages legal, and corrupt authorities who refuse to investigate all contribute to the problem.

Huma Younus, a Christian girl kidnapped at 14 years old, also remains trapped. In October 2019, three men waited until Huma’s parents left their home before barging in and taking Huma by force. A few days later, the kidnappers sent Huma’s parents copies of a marriage certificate and documents alleging her willing conversion to Islam. 

Now 15 years old, reports indicate Huma is confined to one room in her abductor’s house and is now pregnant from repeated rape. Though a judicial magistrate in East Karachi issued a warrant for the arrest of her kidnapper last September, police have reportedly delayed acting upon the warrant.

Intense social hostility to religious minority groups can make doing the right thing dangerous for judges and officials. Nothing makes this reality more clear than the situation surrounding the country’s blasphemy laws.

Conviction on a blasphemy charge in Pakistan can mean life imprisonment or a death sentence. Even if the court acquits someone, violent mobs may form to take the punishment into their own hands. In 2020, an Ahmadi Muslim man who was accused of blasphemy was dramatically shot and killed in the courtroom.

Pressure from Islamists to punish non-Muslims is intense. Just this month, one Pakistani Christian’s sentence was made harsher following an appeal filed by the Islamist legal group Khatam-e-Nabuwwat Forum (KNF) who were seeking the death penalty over the Christian’s blasphemy charge. When Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, publicly defended Asia Bibi in 2011, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, he was assassinated at a public market.

The social hostility surrounding court cases that involve non-Muslims make it more difficult for religious minorities to receive justice—even when the victims are vulnerable young girls. In response, the Pakistani govnerment should be taking steps to secure the rule of law and protect its Christian and other minority citizens.

The scope of the issue and the heinous nature of the crimes make forced marriage in Pakistan an issue that deserves to be addressed by the international community. A new publication by Family Research Council offers several recommendations for how U.S. officials can combat the practice of forced marriages in Pakistan.

First, State Department officials should prioritize the issue of forced conversions and marriages in diplomatic relations. This issue should also factor into considerations of whether Pakistan should be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) on religious freedom by the State Department.

Second, Congress should pass a resolution urging that forced marriage and forced conversion of religious minorities in Pakistan be addressed by both the U.S. govnerment and Pakistani government. Resolutions do not carry the force of law, but they communicate issues about which Congress is especially concerned.

Third, the United States should apply targeted sanctions on Pakistani officials responsible for committing or tolerating human rights abuses. This is an effective way to let corrupt officials know that their complicity in human rights abuses will have international consequences.

Raising the issue of forced marriages of minority girls in Pakistan is especially important because these communities are marginalized and ill-equipped to publicly defend themselves. By advocating on their behalf, the United States can uphold its role as a leader on human rights and raise awareness on a grave problem that receives scant attention.

Hong Kong Has Gone Dark

by Arielle Del Turco , Bob Fu

March 19, 2021

A new law enacted in Hong Kong this week is the final death knell in the city’s democracy. China’s national legislature approved electoral changes intended to ensure there are “patriots governing Hong Kong.” Of course, in Communist Party-run China, “patriotism” means rubber-stamping the Party’s wishes.

With dozens of the top pro-democracy political candidates now in prison, Beijing has crushed the hopes of hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers who took to the streets in a call for greater democracy. As Hong Kong endures political repression under the Chinese Communist Party’s tightening grasp, the freedom-loving world must act to punish Beijing.

The new election law gives Beijing far greater input into choosing the members of the local legislature. Short on details, the measure’s new requirement of “patriotism” will block any dissident from being elected, or even anyone reluctant to affirm the policies of the Party.

As justification for the continued assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, Beijing loyalists now argue that the “one country, two systems” principle agreed upon prior to the British handover in 1997 refers only to economics, not politics. They are changing the rules in the middle of the game.

Consequently, serious China-watchers are appropriately starting to treat Hong Kong just like China. The Heritage Foundation dropped Hong Kong from its annual Index of Economic Freedom, finding the city not sufficiently autonomous to warrant a distinct listing. It is a move that makes Hong Kong’s leaders furious, but this reclassification is merely an acknowledgement of the reality on the ground. Hong Kong is different following China’s national security law and subsequent crackdown, and the world should act like it.

To make matters worse, the political and religious crackdown on the mainland is increasing, and this will no doubt extend to Hong Kong. New religious regulations going into effect in China on May 1 require religious leaders to “support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party” and “practice the core values of socialism.” One church that aided pro-democracy demonstrators in 2019 had its bank accounts frozen. The pastor believes it to be retribution for supporting the protests. Such disregard for the rule of law is frequent on the mainland.

Hong Kong is now politically unrecognizable. Yet, the United States can and should take action to hold Beijing accountable for its trampling of Hong Kongers’ human rights.

Hong Kong’s deterioration of religious freedom, along with freedom of association and assembly, should prompt the U.S. to impose targeted sanctions as provided by the International Religious Freedom Act. Other sanctions for international human rights offenders should be considered, including those provided for under the Global Magnitsky Act.

The United States should also continue to apply the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration against the Hong Kong and Chinese officials most responsible for stifling freedom in the territory.

Finally, the Biden administration should cooperate with Congress to completely void the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which allowed Hong Kong a privileged trade status distinct from mainland China. By designating Hong Kong a Chinese province, Beijing will no longer be able to benefit from the economic success Hong Kong incurred as an economically free society.

Beijing’s repression in Hong Kong must have consequences. America’s allies in the region, including democratic Taiwan, are watching and hoping that the free world will lend practical and meaningful support for democracy in the region. The United States must do its best to provide it.

Beijing and authoritarian leaders across the globe will learn something from the way the world reacts to its Hong Kong crackdown. The lesson they must learn is that regimes who crush democracies will not go unpunished.

Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council.

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

Religious Persecution Fuels Forced Marriage and Human Trafficking

by Arielle Del Turco

March 15, 2021

A new report from Open Doors, “Same Faith, Different Persecution,” details how religious persecution affects men and women differently. Women are particularly vulnerable to different expressions of persecution than men, including sexual violence.

Per the report, in the 50 countries with the highest level of Christian persecution, forced marriages of women have increased by 16 percent. Stunningly, 90 percent of countries featured in the 2021 World Watch List reported incidents of forced marriage, up six percent from the previous year.

Abduction and forced marriage are a particularly widespread problem in Pakistan’s minority communities. In October 2019, three men waited until Huma Younus’ parents left their home before barging in and taking 14-year-old Huma by force. A few days later, the kidnappers sent Huma’s parents copies of a marriage certificate and documents alleging her conversion to Islam. Huma was forced to live as the wife of one of her abductors, and last summer, her parents learned that she had become pregnant from repeated rape.

To Huma’s parents’ dismay, the Sindh High Court ruled in February 2020 that the marriage was legal based on Islamic law, which says men can marry underage girls if they have had their first menstrual cycle. Today, Huma remains subject to unknown abuses in the home of the man who kidnapped her.

In Pakistan, perpetrators choose Christian and Hindu girls as their victims so they can use the country’s religious tensions to cover up their crimes. When a possible instance of forced conversion occurs, the perpetrator will often tell Muslim members of the community that it is inappropriate to question someone’s conversion to Islam. It can be dangerous for a girl to tell authorities or the courts that she did not truly want to convert to Islam; she may face threats against her safety or her family. Mob rule often affects Pakistan’s justice system and weakens the government’s ability to protect the most vulnerable.

In many of the countries Open Doors studied, marriage documentation is often used to cover up human trafficking rings. The report notes, “Traffickers often attempt to cloak the associated sexual violence behind a claim that the girl is now married, which in reality is often a forced marriage or a marriage resulting from targeted seduction.”

It is no secret that in countries with pronounced religious discrimination, girls from religious minority communities are targeted for human trafficking.

State Department officials have repeatedly tried to draw attention to the trafficking of Christians in the countries surrounding China. Kachin Christians from Burma and Christians from Pakistan are favored targets for Chinese traffickers. Traffickers lure impoverished and uneducated girls with the promise of economic comfort, a good job, or the story of a nice Christian boy looking for a wife. In reality, work at a brothel or forced marriage to an abusive and unloving husband is what awaits them.

The fate of women who escape their trafficking or forced marriage situation is also dire. Many cultures attach great shame and stigma to rape. Victims of rape may cease to be seen as an appropriate marriage prospect by their community.

The Open Doors report tells the story of Esther, a young Nigerian girl who was abducted by Boko Haram. After she escaped and made her way home with the child she had in captivity, she was shunned by her community. She said, “They called my baby ‘Boko.’”

The trauma that victims of rape, forced marriage, and human trafficking suffer from is long-lasting. Recovery is an extensive journey that is made even harder without support from the community.

Religious freedom is a human right that affirms other human rights. The various ways in which men and women are victimized by persecution bears witness to that. Research on this topic should cause us to renew our commitment to promoting religious freedom. The painful consequences of religious persecution ought to prompt free societies to take more robust action.

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