Category archives: Religious Persecution

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

by Family Research Council

March 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China Uses Coronavirus to Oppress Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

March 2, 2020

Do you want to kill me? Just kill me.” This is the cry of one Uyghur man in Xinjiang, China, where the government has instituted a strict lockdown due to coronavirus concerns. Unable to help his starving family, the man begged for death in a recent viral video experts say is authentic.

One might have thought that things couldn’t get worse for the oppressed, mostly-Muslim, Uyghur minority concentrated in the northwestern Uyghur region. Yet, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) found a way to manipulate a health crisis and add to it a humanitarian crisis for the beleaguered Uyghur minority.

Local authorities began to impose a strict quarantine in parts of the region at the end of January, and reports suggest the locals were given no notice before the lockdown. Without advance warning or time to store food or other supplies, residents are still forbidden from leaving their homes. Now, they are running out of food and medical supplies.

One Uyghur woman anonymously described her family’s situation to Radio Free Asia, saying, “[The adults] are only eating one meal a day from morning to night” since the lockdown started. “Every morning, we just worry about the children having something to eat.” Without enough to eat, her eight-year-old daughter “became dizzy and passed out,” injuring her head when she fell.

This is just the latest in a long list of China’s abuses against Uyghurs. The Chinese government operates what it calls “Vocational Education and Training Centers” across the Xinjiang province, where an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are forcibly detained, mistreated, pressured to cease their religious practices, and indoctrinated with communist propaganda. 

Recently leaked internal Chinese government documents reveal that Uyghurs can be sent to these re-education camps for just about any reason—including following religious traditions, growing a beard, having too many kids, or owning a passport without having traveled.

Now, Uyghurs fear that breaking quarantine will get them immediately detained in a camp. Even those with serious health problems unrelated to coronavirus are too afraid to violate the quarantine and leave their house to seek medical care.

While the government might insist that the sudden and strict lockdown is meant to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has caused at least two deaths in the region, an effective medical response does not require creating a new humanitarian crisis of mass hunger among residents. The answer to the threat of a dangerous new virus cannot be to starve people under implicit house arrest.

In responding to this crisis, time is of the essence. The Uyghur Human Rights Project has called upon the Red Cross of China, the International Red Cross, and the Red Crescent to request access to the Uyghur region so that they can conduct investigations and provide basic humanitarian relief such as food and medicine to residents who have been trapped.

It’s clear the Chinese government will use any excuse it can to further oppress this small religious group. The U.S. should continue to criticize China’s abuses against Uyghurs and other religious minorities. It’s unacceptable that any country would treat its own people this way—and the Chinese Communist Party must be made to understand that.

The Atrocity of Forced Marriage in Pakistan

by Arielle Del Turco

February 20, 2020

A tragic situation has ended in the best possible way for one Pakistani Christian girl who had been kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and forced to marry a Muslim man in January. Fourteen-year-old Sneha has been recovered by authorities and reunited with her family, but not before enduring a traumatic abduction and being raped multiple times.

Sneha had refused the proposal of a Muslim man, who later kidnapped her with the help of six other men. The men beat her and forced her to sign blank sheets of paper on which they later forged a fake marriage certificate and certificate of conversion to Islam.

Sneha’s family continues to receive threats from the kidnappers, who pressured the parents to withdraw their legal case. In response, the family has moved to an undisclosed location for their own safety. 

Unfortunately, Sneha was lucky compared to the hundreds of other Christian and Hindu girls that are kidnapped and forced to marry Muslim men in Pakistan every year. Not all the girls who face this situation are rescued, and not all the families of these victims find sympathy with the authorities or in court.

Just a few weeks ago, a Pakistani court ruled against the family of another 14-year-old Christian girl, Huma Younus, who was taken from her home and forced to marry a Muslim man on October 10, 2019. The Sindh High Court in Karachi ruled on February 3, 2020 that the forced marriage of this underage girl wasn’t against the law.

Christians face widespread persecution and discrimination in Pakistan, and young Christian women are among those most harmed by it.  

In its 2019 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recognized that approximately “1,000 young women are forcibly converted to Islam each year; many are kidnapped, forcibly married, and subjected to rape.”

Pakistan’s culture and legal system create an environment that leaves religious minorities particularly vulnerable to abuse. Christian communities are among the poorest in Pakistan and are often geographically segregated from the larger Muslim population. Christians are often resigned to take menial jobs which carry heavy social stigmas in Pakistani culture. These factors leave Christians without many resources to stand up to discrimination and violence.

The stigmatization and marginalization of Christians has consequences in the legal system as well. When a case is brought before authorities, the courts are often reluctant to help Christian victims. USCIRF’s report noted that the Pakistani government “has not adequately prosecuted perpetrators of violent crimes against religious minorities.”

Furthermore, USCIRF reports that local police and political leaders in Pakistan are often accused of being complicit in forced marriage and conversion cases by refusing to investigate them. In some cases that are investigated by authorities, young women have been questioned in front of the very men who they were forced to marry, creating environments that intimidate women into lying for their abusers. Pakistan’s legal system has proven itself unwilling and unable to ensure justice is served for the perpetrators of these crimes, and that needs to be met with strong international criticism. 

Pakistan’s failure to enshrine religious freedom and protect its own religious minority groups leaves innocent girls and young women vulnerable to forced marriage and the unspeakable abuses that entails. The government’s unwillingness to bring those who perpetrate crimes against Christians to justice only compounds the problem.

These human rights abuses shouldn’t be met with silence from the rest of the world. The U.S. government should take every opportunity to pressure Pakistan to protect Christians and other religious minorities and bring the perpetrators of crimes against religious minorities to justice. Until real legal protections are enforced on behalf of everyone in Pakistan, including religious minorities, this issue will only get worse.

Religious Minorities in China Are Losing a Deadly Game of Hide and Seek

by Samuel Lillemo

January 16, 2020

Open Doors released its 2020 World Watch List report yesterday, highlighting the fact that the most populated country in the world has now become a surveillance state, and this widespread invasion of privacy is being used to persecute Christians and other religious minorities in China.

The report details the massive expansion of a facial recognition software used to track people’s movements. Independent reporters also released an article describing the systematic monitoring of social media by police forces, often resulting in raids and spontaneous interrogations of students and public servants. The implications of such developments, however, cut more deeply than merely having a Beijing helicopter parent.

A systematic ethnic cleansing campaign, mounted by the communist party against ethno-religious groups it feels threaten “national unity,” has brought many vulnerable minorities (Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, other Muslim minority groups, and practitioners of Falun Gong) into the crosshairs of one of the 21st century’s most brutal regimes. The expansion of technological tracking makes the Chinese authorities nearly inescapable. Robbed of their ability to hide, and with both ancestral ties and economic needs tying them to the region, China’s minorities now have little recourse but to brace for the onslaught of state-sponsored deprogramming.

Recent revelations of living conditions for ethnic and religious minorities under China’s current communist regime, especially for Uyghurs, suggest that, for some, death may be preferable to what they endure. Either violently abducted or coerced by threats against family members, individuals born into these groups are often forced into vehicles and taken to what the Chinese government cheerfully calls “re-education camps.”

Sayragul Sauytbay (pronounced Say-ra-gul Saut-bye) was a prisoner in one of the camps who managed to escape to Sweden. Her testimony was summarized in an article in The Week:

Twenty prisoners live in one small room. They are handcuffed, their heads are shaved, every move is monitored by ceiling cameras. A bucket in the corner of the room is their toilet. The daily routine begins at 6 a.m. They are learning Chinese, memorizing propaganda songs, and confessing to invented sins. They range in age from teenagers to elderly. Their meals are meager: cloudy soup and a slice of bread. Torture — metal nails, fingernails pulled out, electric shocks — takes place in the “black room.” Punishment is a constant… [t]hey are the human subjects of medical experiments… Women are routinely raped.

While Sayragul’s experience hopefully represents only the extreme of camp brutality, Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, explains, “I think it’s fair to describe everyone being detained as being subject at least to psychological torture, because they literally don’t know how long they’re going to be there.” Such is not merely the fate of a few thousand dissidents or “terrorists,” as the communist government of China has grown fond of calling them. Scholars estimate that at least 1 million people have been kidnapped into brutal conditions after the communist Chinese regime felt threatened by their religious beliefs. 

To comprehend the magnitude of these internments, briefly consider that the U.S. population in 2015 included 1.1 million medical doctors. Now imagine every physician across the nation being rounded up and sent into prison camps, and you have an idea of the raw scale of China’s program. In the name of “fighting terrorism,” the current Chinese regime has abandoned the role of guardian and become a tormentor of its own people.

Governments, by nature of their authority and scale, have the unique ability to create an organized system of protections for their people. This same power corrupted, however, allows a regime to coordinate its hulking machinery for large-scale atrocities against truly helpless citizens. The evil we confront today is not simply the lawless violence of sectarian warfare across the plains of Kenya and Nigeria, but also technologically advanced regimes like China that have become factories of human suffering, churning out organized misery upon those proclaiming religious faith.

Religious Freedom Day, recognized on January 16, marks the 234th anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, wherein Thomas Jefferson took up a cry that was soon after echoed by every other American state: “No man shall… suffer, on account of his religious opinions or beliefs.” In a masterful brushstroke, Jefferson lead the Founding Fathers in establishing the absolute necessity of equal rights for all people under the state, regardless of their faith tradition.

This protection embodies one of the foundational virtues of the Western democratic tradition, but is far from the norm for people of faith across the world. As the U.S. celebrates its fundamental commitment to religious liberty, we must work harder than ever to raise awareness that the need for freedom of conscience still exists in the world.

Don’t miss our Speaker Series event today at 12 p.m. as we host Jewher Ilham, the daughter of a Uyghur scholar and social advocate who is tirelessly working for her father’s release from China’s prisons.

Samuel Lillemo is a Policy/Government Affairs intern at Family Research Council.

Entering the New Year, Religious Minorities Across the Globe Face an Uncertain Future

by Arielle Del Turco

December 30, 2019

A recent Washington Post article highlighted some of the concerning trends in international religious freedom in 2019.

Most prominent is the attack on religious freedom in China, which is especially apparent in the Uyghur crisis. Uyghurs are facing an extremely advanced and well-planned scheme of cultural genocide by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At least 1-2 million Uyghurs are detained in “re-education” camps intended to strip them of their unique religious and cultural identity. Over the last year, China has only dug their heels in to defend their actions in the Uyghur region.

But it’s not just Uyghurs. Those of all faiths are targeted by the Chinese regime. For CCP leaders, any claim to a higher authority—including God—is a threat to the rule of the Party, and one that must be eliminated or subdued.

The Post piece also featured anti-Christian violence in Sri Lanka. On Easter in 2019, almost 300 Christians were killed at church services in bombings across several cities. This tragedy was a result of a growing militant Buddhist nationalist movement. Christians in Sri Lanka are increasingly at risk of attack, and the world needs to become more aware of their plight.

A third religious freedom concern is the treatment of Muslims in India. The Hindu nationalist-led government has found numerous ways to antagonize this religious minority over the past year. The political party currently in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party, seeks to solidify India as a country for Hindus only—and this is a problem for all of India’s religious minorities, including Christians.

The Post article also points out the uncertain future of Turkish Christians. In a story that’s becoming disturbingly common in the Middle East, the percentage of the population that identifies as Christian in Turkey has dropped from almost 25 percent in 1914 to less than 0.5 percent today. This reflects similar trends across the Middle East as Christians flee persecution. The Middle East was the birthplace of Christianity, and the ancient Christian communities who have maintained a presence there for thousands of years are increasingly at risk.

If you’re wondering why it’s such a big deal to protect Christian communities in Northeast Syria and other parts of the Middle East—it’s because they’re disappearing from this region altogether.

Lastly, the article recognizes Burma—an area that also should not be forgotten. Burma is a Buddhist-majority country, and religious tensions spilled over when the Burmese military massacred thousands of Rohingya Muslims in 2017. Many Rohingya still live in refugee camps in Bangladesh and are vulnerable to human trafficking. The consequences of this event are still dire, and the victims are still hurting.

Going into 2020, all of these religious minority groups don’t know what the future holds. As Christians, we can pray for these people who have inherent worth and are made in the image of God. As people who care about the fundamental right to religious freedom for everyone, we can spend the next year advocating on behalf of these oppressed people.

For Some Christians Around the World, Celebrating Christmas is Dangerous

by Arielle Del Turco

December 24, 2019

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, many are forced to do so in secret. Arrest and punishment at the hands of the government or violence at the hands of extremist groups plague many around the world who simply try to celebrate the birth of their Savior.

In Iran, the government takes advantage of Christmas celebrations in their effort to crackdown on the spread of Christianity. Dabrina Tamraz has been a victim of religious persecution herself in Iran. She is reporting that authorities began to arrest Christians in the last few weeks. She says, “Christmas celebrations make it easier for Iranian authorities to arrest a group of Christians at one time.”

The Iranian government’s main targets are converts to Christianity from a Muslim background and evangelicals. The regime feels threated by Christians who would evangelize and share their faith. Christians who stay home might avoid being targeted by authorities, but any expressions of faith—including Christmas celebrations—can be dangerous.

Christians in India are also bracing themselves amid a new wave of persecution this December. According to International Christian Concern, at least 10 Christians were arrested on trumped-up criminal charges, clean drinking water was cut off for 25 Christian families, and several churches have been shut down just this month.

We have cancelled all our Christmas events in Banni Mardatti village, including carols, cottage meetings, and pre-Christmas events,” said Pastor Raja Bhovi from in India’s Karnataka State, “There is a fear of being attacked by Hindu radicals.” 

If last year is any indicator, these fears may be justified. Just before Christmas in 2018, a mob attacked a small church in India’s Maharashtra state, leaving many injured.            

Some countries go so far as to openly ban the celebration of Christmas. In Brunei, a small country on the island of Borneo, Christians found celebrating Christmas illegally could face a 5-year prison sentence, a $20,000 fine, or both.

Brunei instituted this policy in 2015, while its Ministry of Religious Affairs released a statement expressing concern that any public Christmas celebrations might “damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community.” 

In North Korea, those who celebrate Christmas can be imprisoned, tortured or put to death. North Korea is a communist country where the only gods allowed are the Kim family dictators. Christmas is not widely known, and certainly not celebrated publicly. Yet, the North Korean regime has seemingly tried to replace Christmas altogether. 

North Koreans are encouraged to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-Suk, the deceased grandmother of Kim Jong Un. Her birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve, is even marked by pilgrimages to the town of her birth. The empty substitute religion centered on the Kim family ultimately won’t satisfy the human soul. Open Doors USA estimates that there are approximately 300,000 Christians in North Korea—quite an accomplishment for the most closed country in the world. 

In countries across the world, any expression of the Christian faith leaves Christians vulnerable to arrest from the government or even attacks from their neighbors. Christians are often forced to either cancel their celebrations or gather in secret. Yet, the price for getting caught at such clandestine events can be costly.

As Christians in the West openly celebrate the Christmas season with friends and family, we should pause and pray for the Christians who will celebrate in secret. We can be thankful that Christ was born over 2,000 years ago to bring us the Gospel. And that hope is a light that no force of darkness can extinguish.

Crimes” in the Criminal State of China

by Daniel Hart

December 5, 2019

The video is chilling. In a recently released clip from inside a Chinese police station, a lone man sits strapped into a metal cage-like contraption that looks like it is meant to subdue a wild animal, but is actually meant for the interrogation of ordinary citizens. With downcast eyes and a timid voice, he softly answers a series of questions from his interrogators, apologizing for drinking “a bit too much” and speaking “nonsense.” His crime? He apparently made a negative remark or two on social media about the police confiscating motorcycles.

What’s wrong with the police confiscating motorcycles?” the interrogator demands.

Nothing wrong with that,” the man feebly responds.

At the end of the video, after repeatedly expressing his sorrow for his “crime” in response to multiple demands by the interrogators to explain himself, the man makes a final plea for mercy. With a bow of his head, he solemnly declares, “Uncle police, I’m so sorry. I’m wrong. I know that now. Please forgive me. I won’t do it again, ever.”

Interrogations like these are now becoming a routine part of life in China. With no civil rights and an encroaching regime that monitors every aspect of daily life, ordinary citizens like this man know that if they say something on social media that the government doesn’t like and say the wrong thing to the police, they could end up in prison, tortured, or killed.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg of the human rights atrocities and abuses that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is perpetrating against its own people. Here is a brief list:

  • As we have written about previously, the CCP is forcibly harvesting the organs of religious minorities to fuel an organ industry to the tune of $10-20 billion, which provides up to 85 percent of the world’s organ transplants (more on that later).
  • The CCP has been persecuting and executing the traditionally Muslim Uyghurs since at least the 1990’s. Today, over 1.5 million ethnic Uyghurs are currently imprisoned in what the CCP calls “concentrated education and training schools,” in which detainees are subjected to indoctrination sessions, torture, sexual assault, and execution.
  • The CCP continues to mandate the number of children couples can have, which recently changed from a one-child to a two-child policy. This system is enforced through exorbitant monetary fines, forced abortions, and forced sterilizations. It is estimated that there have been more than 330 million induced abortions in China since the one-child was first implemented in the early 1980’s. A significant (but unknown) percentage of these abortions were forced.
  • The CCP’s reign of terror against religious practitioners has been ongoing since the 1960’s. Currently, religious practice is being suppressed by any means necessary.
  • The CCP is implementing a “social credit system” that rates the behavior of Chinese citizens so that their ranking fluctuates up and down. Depending on your score, you can be banned from buying plane and train tickets, your children can be banned from attending the best schools, you can be denied jobs, and you can be publicly named a “bad citizen,” among a host of other injustices.

As these human rights atrocities and abuses illustrate, China is in fact a criminal state. The final report compiled by the China Tribunal (which amassed definitive evidence of forced organ harvesting that has and is currently happening in China) makes this conclusion:

Governments and any who interact in any substantial way with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] including:

  • Doctors and medical institutions;
  • Industry, and businesses, most specifically airlines, travel companies, financial services businesses, law firms and pharmaceutical and insurance companies together with individual tourists,
  • Educational establishments;
  • Arts establishments

should now recognise that they are, to the extent revealed above, interacting with a criminal state.

FRC could not agree more. Organizations like the NBA, Hollywood, and other industries that have conveniently ignored the human rights atrocities and abuses committed by the CCP for financial gain must answer to the fact that they are dealing with a criminal state. And as we have repeatedly pointed out, the United States must address these atrocities and abuses in its current and future trade and diplomatic dealings with the CCP.

As Uyghurs Disappear in China, Officials Offer Scripted Excuses

by Arielle Del Turco

November 21, 2019

In what might first appear to be a progressive measure to help a religious and ethnic minority group, China sends the brightest Uyghur college students to universities across the country. But what happens when Beijing is simultaneously detaining the parents of these students to be brainwashed with communist propaganda? Well, the Chinese government has directives on how to handle uncomfortable conversations that ensue when Uyghur students return home and ask why their parents have disappeared.   

Following a historic leak of Chinese government documents, The New York Times released a document that instructed local officials on how to explain the forced disappearance of Uyghur students’ family members. Officials were encouraged to quickly meet with students to mollify concerns and ensure compliance with the policy. Their parents were merely “in a training school set up by the government to undergo collective systematic training, study and instruction.”

Students were to be comforted that they “have absolutely no need to worry.” Yet, they were also warned that their behavior would affect the length of their relatives’ detention.

When students inquired as to what crime their family members have committed, the officials were instructed to tell the truth. “They haven’t committed a crime and won’t be convicted.” Rather, officials were to try to sell students the narrative that the minds of their relatives had been “infected by unhealthy thoughts.” This is what China is trying to fix.

Though guilty of no crime, these students’ families had been caught up in China’s wide-scale campaign against religion. China currently detains at least 1.5 million Uyghurs, a mostly-Muslim Turkic ethnic group, in what it calls “concentrated education and training schools.” Others have preferred the term “concentration camps.” This program forces Uyghurs to adopt the language and beliefs preferred by the regime. The testimonies of detainees report daily Chinese Communist Party indoctrination sessions, torture, and sexual assault.

The leaked documents contain many references to “infections” and “viruses.” But religion is not a disease. And forcibly detaining members of a religious minority group who aren’t guilty of any crime is not a legitimate counter-terrorism effort, as China has repeatedly claimed.

Among the leaked documents are speeches by Chinese President Xi Jinping in which he directed officials to show “absolutely no mercy” when carrying out the party’s policies in Xinjiang.

However, the documents revealed that not everyone was quick to embrace China’s oppressive policies in Xinjiang. In 2017 alone, the party opened over 12,000 investigations into party members in Xinjiang for infractions in the “fight against separatism.”

In response to the leak, China’s foreign ministry said the report was “a clumsy patchwork of selective interpretation” that was “deaf and blind to the facts.” The Chinese government can complain about how their actions in Xinjiang are perceived all they want. The fact is that their own internal documents show exactly what their intentions are. Notably, the Chinese foreign ministry didn’t bother to deny the authenticity of these documents.

This news has prompted U.S. lawmakers to renew calls for the House of Representatives to pass the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which was passed in the Senate in September. Lawmakers are also calling for the imposition of Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against top Chinese officials responsible for abuses against Uyghurs. U.S. politicians should use the momentum fostered by The New York Times’ report to take these actions and others. China needs to hear loud and clear that their repression of Uyghurs and other religious groups will not be tolerated by the rest of the world. The evidence has never been more obvious. And the situation has never been more urgent.

Turkey Is Accused of War Crimes in Syria. Here Are Three Questions Trump Should Ask Erdogan.

by Arielle Del Turco

November 12, 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is headed to the White House to meet with President Trump on Wednesday, November 13. Members of Congress have objected to this meeting due to the ongoing Turkish incursion into Northeast Syria, which has taken a significant toll on civilians and religious minorities, including Christians. Erdogan’s arrival on Wednesday is expected to be greeted by protests. In 2017, a small group protesting Erdogan’s visit in D.C. was assaulted by members of Erdogan’s security detail who overran D.C. police. In response to this incident two years ago, Rep. Dan Crenshaw is leading a joint letter urging the State Department and D.C. police to ensure that Erdogan and his security detail “are aware of and understand that Americans enjoy First Amendment rights to assembly and speech.”

It’s a controversial decision to meet with Erdogan, yet this gives President Trump the perfect opportunity to confront the authoritarian leader and pressure him to cease his country’s ongoing abuses in Northeast Syria. There’s still time to set the agenda of the two leaders’ November 13 meeting. To that end, here are three questions President Trump should pressure Erdogan to answer.

1) How will you rein in the Syrian militias, which the Turkish military is currently using in the offensive into Northeast Syria and who have committed documented war crimes and other violations?

Turkish-backed militias are doing a lot of the dirty work in Turkey’s incursion into Northeast Syria. In the ongoing assault in Northeast Syria, Turkish-backed forces have executed Kurdish prisoners, ambushed and brutally killed a female Kurdish politician, and killed many unarmed civilians. Videos and photos have surfaced showing Turkish-backed militia members executing civilians by the roadside—and U.S. officials confirmed their authenticity.

Dave Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers is shocked by their actions. He called them “a wicked force unleashing terror. You know we’ve seen them mutilate girls, torture civilians, yell ‘Allah Akbar’ just like we saw ISIS do against us. So, I would say they’re a wicked scourge being used by Erdogan to torment the people here. And they’ve got to be stopped.”

These extremist groups are funded by and are under the command of the Turkish military. Their grotesque actions are beyond unacceptable. Turkey is a NATO ally; they shouldn’t be funding extremists to commit atrocities against civilians in a neighboring country. President Erdogan should be made to answer for the actions of these forces, and President Trump is well within his rights to demand that Erdogan rein in these militias.

2) What are you going to do to fulfill your promise to protect Christians and other religious minorities that have been harassed and victimized by Turkish-backed Syrian militias?

Christians and other religious minorities have been targeted for attack by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed forces. CBN News reported that Turkish-backed forces are marking Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” to label them as Christian for the purpose of confiscating their belongings, much like ISIS did.

Turkish bombardments have even appeared to target Christian sites and neighborhoods, including the largest Christian neighborhood in Qamishli, setting houses on fire and killing several civilians. Some Christians in Syria fear that the Turkish incursion will ultimately lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region as the situation becomes unlivable. This is especially disturbing, given that the region Turkey is attacking is led by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, where (up until a month ago) religious minorities were protected and given equal political rights—an anomaly in the Middle East.

A statement from the White House on October 9 claimed, “Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.” Turkey has clearly failed to deliver on this promise. Erdogan’s government assured the U.S. that they would protect Christians and religious minorities—President Trump can remind him of that.

3) How will you ensure further war crimes aren’t committed by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed forces?

Credible reports indicate that Turkey is guilty of war crimes committed within the last month. A statement from Amnesty International noted “damning evidence of war crimes” committed by Turkish forces in Syria. Kumi Naidoo of Amnesty International said, “Turkish military forces and their allies have displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives, launching unlawful deadly attacks in residential areas that have killed and injured civilians.” Dave Eubank also attests to war crimes committed by Turkish-backed forces. “Oh yes, killing prisoners, killing civilians, chasing people out of their homes, torture. Definitely.”

Evidence also suggests Turkish-backed forces have used munitions loaded with white phosphorus—a chemical that does enormous damage and can kill. Civilians, including children, appear to have been attacked by the chemical weapon. Kurdish General Mazloum has accused Turkey of ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people to later replace them with Arab Syrians in the region they invaded, changing the demography of the region.

Turkey needs to answer for its targeting of civilians. U.S. drone feeds appeared to show Turkish-backed Arab gunmen targeting civilians during the invasion of Northeast Syria. Rojava Information Center has reported that Turkish forces targeted civilians fleeing the invasion and bombed a hospital which had to be taken out of service due to Turkish shelling. Erdogan must be made to explain the many reports of civilian causalities, especially after he promised the U.S. that Turkey would protect civilians.

Ultimately, this meeting should not be a simple photo op that Erdogan can use to show that the United States affirms Turkish actions in Northeast Syria. Instead, this is a perfect opportunity for President Trump to press Erdogan on Turkey’s actions and hold Turkey accountable for ongoing atrocities in Syria.

What We Can Do to Support Human Rights for Chinese Citizens

by Daniel Hart

November 6, 2019

As we have recently written about and discussed on Washington Watch, the evidence is overwhelming. China is forcibly harvesting the organs of its own citizens while they are still alive. The exact number of people that have been killed is not known, but estimates are in the tens of thousands. It is estimated that the organ market that is generated by forced organ harvesting is making China $10 to 20 billion.

As our just-released Issue Analysis points out, these unspeakable crimes against humanity have mostly been perpetrated against religious minorities in China, particularly adherents to Falun Gong and ethnically Muslim Uyghurs.

While forced organ harvesting is the most barbaric form of persecution that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has committed against religious minorities, it is far from the only crime they are guilty of. The CCP was built on an extended reign of terror and mass murder that is unprecedented in the history of the world, so it should come as no surprise that they are using almost any means necessary to suppress dissent—especially of religious minorities who they see as a threat to their goal of total adherence from every single citizen to the atheistic communist ideology.

As we discuss in our new Issue Analysis, hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens whose only crime is the practice of a faith have been imprisoned. An estimated 800,000 to 2 million are being forcibly detained in “re-education” camps that are nothing more than forced indoctrination and torture camps. China has brutally enforced a one-child policy (it is now a two child policy) that was carried out through forced abortions and sterilizations for decades. The list of atrocities that the CCP has committed against its own people goes on and on.

What the American People Can Do to Affect Change

Despite the obvious evils that the CCP perpetrates on its own people, hundreds of American businesses continue to do business with China. It cannot be repeated enough: China is forcibly harvesting the organs of its own people for financial profit. The proof is as plain as day. How much more evil must the CCP commit to finally awaken the conscience of American businesses?

As we argue, there is much that can be done to pressure China from a public policy standpoint, including official condemnations, financial sanctions, renegotiating trade deals, and congressional action.

But the American people can do more than that. It is time for all American companies who do business with China to demand that basic human rights be restored to Chinese citizens or they will seriously consider ending their business partnerships.

American consumers have an important role to play in this. We can all contact the companies that we buy products from and demand that these companies do all they can to pressure the Chinese government to restore human rights to its citizens. Companies listen to the concerns of their customers. The more we demand change, the more companies will realize how concerned their customers are about the issue of human rights in China and the more likely it will be that they will consider changing their business dealings with China.

We American citizens have more power than we think we have. If we demand change from American companies who do business in China and use our purchasing power as leverage, we may be able to hasten the day when the Chinese people are finally free from government oppression.

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