Category archives: Religious Persecution

A Survivor of China’s “Re-education” Camps Exposes Atrocities in Xinjiang

by Arielle Del Turco

June 12, 2019

Mihrigul Tursun is a survivor of a “re-education” internment camp in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

It’s incredibly rare to hear from a survivor of one of the camps. Detainees are rarely released. And when they are, they are closely monitored and intimidated by the Chinese government.

The camps appear to be designed to force Uyghur Muslims—an ethnic and religious minority residing in northwest China—to adopt the norms, language, and non-religious tendencies preferred by the Chinese Communist Party. Detainees are subjected to daily communist party indoctrination sessions, inhumane living conditions, and torture. It is estimated that China currently detains at least one million Uyghurs in these facilities.

A Uyghur Muslim originally from Xinjiang, Mihrigul was living in Egypt with her husband following her education. When she had triplets in 2015, she took her babies back to China so that her parents could help her care for them.

When she arrived at the airport in Xinjiang with her two-month-old triplets, Chinese authorities seized her children from her while she was questioned and beaten. Authorities then took her directly to prison where she was held without any idea if or when she might be released.

Following her release from prison two months later, she rushed to pick up her children from the hospital where the authorities had kept them. Upon her arrival, she was informed that operations had been performed on all three of her children. A day later, it resulted in the death of one of her sons. Despite her pleas, she was denied the request to see her son.

Mihrigul was again taken into custody—this time to a “reeducation” camp. There, Chinese authorities repeatedly tortured her. They put a metal device on her head which transmitted electric shocks sending a searing pain which could be felt even in her veins and bones. The pain was so great she begged the guards to kill her—convinced that death would be better than enduring more torture.

She was placed in Cell 210, a small room that held 68 women. One woman in the cell hadn’t been allowed to leave the room in 13 months—not even to shower. Occasionally, women were taken from the cell and never heard of again.

Mihrigul witnessed nine women die in the cell due to the brutal conditions of the camp over the course of her detention. When the police came to remove a body of the deceased, all the women were instructed to lie down on the floor. The police didn’t enter the room to pick up the body. Rather, they used a metal contraption to pick the body up by the neck and drag it out of the cell, as if trash was being picked up off the ground.

At one point, Mihrigul was sentenced to death and the police asked her how she wanted to die.

Thankfully, Mihrigul was released in April 2018 after having been detained for 10 months in total, and she was allowed to return to Egypt to seek medical treatment for her two remaining children who had Egyptian citizenship.

Even today, the nightmare hasn’t ended for Mihrigul. She can’t sleep at night. The images of the nine women who died keep coming to her mind. In her dreams, Chinese authorities want to kill her.

As I write this now, Mihrigul is living in the United States and speaking out on this issue, though recounting these memories is difficult for her. I had the opportunity to hear her tell her story at a conference held by the World Uyghur Congress in Washington, D.C. last week.

It was sobering to hear this testimony. The room was in tears over Mihrigul’s story. Over 1,500 Uyghurs reside in the Washington, D.C. area, and many of them have family members in China who have disappeared and are thought to be in “re-education” camps. Mihrigul’s testimony points to a terrifying possibility of what might be happening to their own family members in China.

China continues to shamelessly deny the true nature of these camps. Chinese leaders try to sell the narrative that these camps are merely “free vocational training” centers. One Chinese leader claimed the camps are “the same as boarding schools.”

Yet, the lies of Chinese government officials will not shelter them from the truth and their false narratives will not absolve them of their human rights violations.

There is ample evidence to prove what is really going on in Xinjiang. Satellite images, Chinese government budget reports, and witness testimonies such as Mihrigul’s reveal the truth of China’s brutal oppression of religious minorities.

The Western world cannot continue to treat China just like any other nation. The blatant lack of respect for human life and freedom is something that can’t be ignored.

The Trump administration has prioritized religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy—that’s something that needs to be taken seriously. The U.S. government must make it clear that there are diplomatic and economic consequences for China’s crackdown on religious minorities.

Americans benefit immensely from the religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution. In contrast, the Chinese government views the beliefs of religious minorities as a threat to the ideology of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Thus, China sends Uyghur Muslims to “re-education” camps to be indoctrinated and tortured and arrests Christians for attending unapproved house churches. As Christians in the United States take notice of the victims of religious freedom violations around the world, such as Uyghur Muslims, we must advocate on their behalf.

Powerful Testimony from a Christian Survivor of North Korea

by Family Research Council

June 7, 2019

The following is a transcript of testimony (at 57:00) given by Ji Hyeona at the Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum on May 31, 2019. It was translated by Professor Hyun Song.

My name is Hyeona Ji, and I escaped North Korea to seek my God-given freedom and I now have become a devout Christian living in South Korea.

[…]

In North Korea, a country ranked #1 for 18 years as the worst persecutor of Christians, the very idea of freedom and human rights is foreign. I never heard of or used those words while in North Korea, and they do not fit the North Korean society.

In North Korea, faith means being loyal to the Kim family dictatorship.

I first came across the Bible in North Korea. My mother went to China to find food during the difficult period in North Korea and brought back a small Bible which I read every day.

One day I was called to the local Ministry of State Security… and there, I was tortured and beaten for reasons unknown. I was then asked, did I come into contact with any South Korean intelligence agents? I said I didn’t know what you’re talking about, and that’s when the agent placed my Bible on his desk. He told me to explain what this is all about. At that moment, I felt my heart stop.

Because in North Korea, if you believe in any other God or gods besides the Kim Il-sung and the Kim family dictators, you would be sent to a political prison camp or executed. I knew I had to be quick-thinking, so I said I found it while I was walking around and I wanted to turn it in but I didn’t have time.

So, I lied. I had to lie because that was the only way I could survive and get out of that situation. The security agent told me he would check on this and he repeatedly told me if I did this again that he would not forgive me. He put fear in me and then released me.

I found out later that my best friend actually turned in the Bible and reported me to the authorities.

So, having faith in North Korea—where everyone monitored each other and surveilled each other—having faith was an impossible thing to do.

I escaped four times from North Korea, and I was repatriated by the Chinese authorities three times. During this process of escape and repatriation, I was sent to Prison Camp #11 – Labor Reform Prison Camp. And there, I was forced to do slave-like labor, and I saw so many people die from simple illnesses like diarrhea, starvation, and over-work.

The only thing the living could do for the dead in the prison camp was close the eyes of the people who passed away—who died in the prison camp.

[…]

Fortunately, I was released on Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16, 2000 from Prison Camp #11. I miraculously survived, and I escaped North Korea again. However, I was arrested by Chinese authorities and then repatriated back to North Korea again. At this point, I was three months pregnant.

The North Korean regime does not recognize mixed race children. So, North Korean security agents, they force these women who come back pregnant with Chinese babies—who are often sold into trafficking situations—to have forced abortions by carrying heavy cement blocks in detention facilities or being forced to do a repeated sitting down and standing up motion. Or, in the case of six month or longer pregnant North Korean defector women, they will… do medicinally induced abortion.

Every night, I heard the screams of women going through forced abortions in the prison camp.

I too could not avoid this fate, as I was three months pregnant with a half-Chinese, half-Korean baby in my womb.

Where they placed me was not a hospital bed, but it was a desk. And a fearful-looking doctor forcibly pried open my legs and inserted forceps and started killing my baby in my womb by cutting up and shredding my baby.

This was all done without any anesthesia used on me and the physical pain was so hard to endure.

I could hear the doctor being frustrated with the fact that the shredded parts of my baby… were not falling off the forceps.

So, he would bang the forceps against a dish to get rid of the pieces of my baby’s body. And that sound still rings in my ears to this day.

I cried out to God, “God, do you see this? How come I have to take this painful violent choice? Were my prayers not enough for you?”

And I heard the voice of God say back to me, “Does this hurt? Does this hurt a lot? Then now you understand what I went through when I sent my son to the world.” This is when I knew the heart of God.

And I determined that I would survive and I would tell the world about the Christian persecution of the North Korean regime and the human rights violations going on in the country and to spread the Good News of Jesus in North Korea.

And I escaped North Korea again.

Once I arrived in South Korea after my escape, I became an activist. And I am involved with work sending leaflets and Christian materials into North Korea via balloons and working as an activist.

And I also am taking this message throughout the world to tell the people all around the world about the human rights situation in North Korea.

My message is that human rights is the right for people to enjoy the freedom of God-given faith.

So, today, I want to share… three suggestions of how we can pressure the Chinese government, and, more importantly, the North Korean government, to stop the persecution of Christians.

First of all, North Korea is a country that kills people who believe in Jesus and persecutes them.

So, the U.S. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, and this is where one of the articles… of the act says that countries of particular concern when it comes to religious persecution must face a punishment, diplomatically and through economic sanctions, so that they will change their ways. North Korea fits this perfectly.

Second, in China, North Korean women who are repatriated into North Korea who are pregnant are forced to undergo abortion… and there are currently 250,000 estimated refugees living in China. A lot of them have come into contact with Christianity and are attending churches.

North Korean defector women are investigated by Chinese authorities before being handed over to North Korean authorities. And as a result of the investigation, depending on how much exposure they’ve had to people from South Korea or Americans in China, they’re either sent to a total control zone political prison camp, or sent to a prison, or executed.

And China, while still being a member of the Security Council of the U.N., and also being a party to the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, they violate the rights of North Korean defectors. They do not recognize them as refugees. So, the voice against China calling out their actions must grow louder.

[…]

In closing, the principle of Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, says that countries should protect and help those who are facing persecution and are facing this sort of danger.

And so, I believe… that the international community should pressure the Chinese government to stop the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.

[…]

So, as Moses said to the Pharaoh, we cry out to the North Korean government, “Let my people go.”

Thank you.

30 Years After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, China Still Oppresses Its People

by Arielle Del Turco

June 4, 2019

Thirty years ago today, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army fired into crowds of its own people—thousands of student-led protestors calling for a more democratic government. This marked a brutal end to the pro-democracy demonstrations that had been going on for weeks in Tiananmen Square.

While estimates suggest that several hundred to thousands of people died that day, an official death toll has never been released.

Fast forward to today and Chinese officials continue to dig their heels in and defend the actions taken by the Communist party which has come to be known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe cited the government’s actions in this incident as “the reason the stability of the country has been maintained.”

However, denial of past wrongs is the least of China’s problems.

The events at Tiananmen Square merely reflected the willingness of the Chinese Communist Party to put their ideology above the welfare, freedom, and even the lives of its own people. This sentiment has continued to grow within the Chinese government, and it has had tragic consequences for Chinese residents—especially those who wish to choose and live out a faith not approved by the communist regime.

China’s decades-long crackdown on Christians is continuing and it’s only getting worse.

The main targets of China’s campaign against Christianity are those who attend “underground” churches not registered with the government. In 2018, an estimated 100,000 Christians were arrested; most of these arrests were followed by short-term detention.

Last year, the Chinese government started a “thought reform” campaign to promote “Chinese Christianity.” The plan includes “retranslating and annotating” the Bible to find similarities with socialism. This is essentially an attempt to use Christianity as a platform to advance the communist party. Churches and believers who refuse to compromise their faith this way will likely face consequences. Rural underground churches have been forced to close and their members sent to labor camps.

The churches that seek and attain approval from the state don’t fare much better.

A variety of oppressive restrictions are forced upon state-sanctioned churches. Minors are banned from entering churches. The online sales of Bibles are blocked. Even the Catholic Catechism is censored. This April, Chinese authorities prevented several state-sanctioned churches from holding worship services and warned Christians not to participate in Easter celebrations.

While the suppression of Christianity is concerning, Christians aren’t the only victims of the Chinese government’s disapproval.

In China’s Xinjiang province, approximately one million Uyghur Muslims are detained in “re-education” prison camps, where they are subjected to torture and indoctrination by the communist party. Even within the last year, China has continued to add buildings to these camps—presumably with the intention of detaining more Uyghurs.

China is continually using technological advancements to crack down on Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Facial recognition technology—fixed to the entrances of supermarkets, malls, and police checkpoints every few hundred feet—is used to track Uyghurs as they go about their day.

China has also been accused of harvesting organs from its Uyghur population as they try to profit from their brutal human rights abuses.

In light of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, none of these human rights violations and religious freedom concerns should be a surprise. In Tiananmen, the Chinese government made clear that they wouldn’t tolerate any ideas that question the political ideology of the state.

Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are deeply connected—and the Chinese government feels threatened by both.

Just like China’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, today China cracks down on its religious minorities.

The trend of worsening religious freedom violations and increasing attacks on free speech in China tells us this isn’t an issue that’s going to resolve itself.

As we remember the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre today, we must also remember and pray for those who are continuing to suffer under China’s repressive regime.

With Modi’s Reelection, India’s Religious Minorities Remain Under Threat

by Arielle Del Turco

May 31, 2019

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected for another five-year term last week in a decisive victory. The Hindu nationalist party he represents, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), secured a majority in the lower house of Parliament, earning the most seats in the history of the party.

All of this is bad news for the Christians living in India.

Persecution of Christians has grown significantly worse during Modi’s leadership and the rise of the BJP. The BJP advances a growing narrative that suggests “to be Indian is to be Hindu.” The fact that Christian and Muslim minorities have chosen a faith other than Hinduism is seen as an attack on the national identity of India. Earlier this year, BJP Member of Parliament Bharat Singh even claimed Christian missionaries were “a threat to the unity of the country.”

The popularity of the BJP’s ideology is reflected in actions taken not just by the government, but also by mobs and vigilante groups. Militant groups are known to patrol neighborhoods “looking for those who do not conform to society’s religious norms.” For Christians in India, mob violence is a continual threat. Violence against the Christian community has included beatings, sexual assault, and forced conversions to Hinduism. In 2017, there were 736 reported attacks against Indian Christians. That’s up from 358 reported attacks in 2016.

Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List ranks India as one of the top ten countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian. Before Modi was elected to his first term as Prime Minister in 2014, India was listed as No. 31.

At the recent Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum, speakers addressed India’s use of anti-conversion laws to target Christians and limit the natural expression of beliefs which is part of religious freedom. The provisions of India’s anti-conversion laws prohibit “fraudulent” conversions or offering “inducements” to convert. For instance, when a Christian claims the price for not accepting Jesus is hell (part of the basic message of Christianity), that’s seen as coercive and a violation of the anti-conversion law.

This has already had consequences for the people of India. Hindu radicals have begun to display “a pattern of accusing Christians of forced conversion, which is a crime in certain Indian states that can be punished with imprisonment.” In 2017, Christian humanitarian aid organization Compassion International was accused of actively attempting to convert children. They were subsequently forced to stop operating in the country. The organization was India’s largest single foreign donor and had provided medical care, meals, and tuition money for Indian children.

Christians aren’t the only victims of the BJP’s attempts to make India an exclusively Hindu country. Muslims in India are also fearful about Modi’s second term and the increasing influence of the BJP.

Modi’s right-hand man, Amit Shah, who was newly given charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Modi’s new cabinet, has been particularly critical of Muslims. Shah has called Muslim migrants “infiltrators” and “termites” and promised to “remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs.”

Like the Christian community, Muslims have also been the victims of Hindu mob violence. They are often targeted because they eat beef, an offense to Hindus who believe cows are sacred. Since 2015, 36 Muslims have been killed by mobs in the name of “cow protection.”

Religious minorities in India are concerned about what Modi’s re-election and the BJP’s parliamentary victory means for religious freedom in the next few years. As people who care about religious liberty, we need to be monitoring developments in India and praying for the persecuted.

The Trump administration currently wants to maintain a positive relationship with Modi’s government because we need strong allies in a region that continually poses a risk to U.S. national security. There is value in that strategy. Yet, even as U.S. leaders continue to work with the government of India, they should make clear in that relationship that the U.S. values religious freedom and that we notice the way our allies treat their religious minorities.

China is Trafficking the Organs of Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

May 29, 2019

The boldness and scope of the Chinese government’s human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim population has been continually increasing in recent years. It is estimated that at least one million Uyghur Muslims are currently detained in what China calls free “vocational training centers” but in reality are massive internment camps in which detainees are indoctrinated with Chinese Communist Party propaganda.

While these developments have been well-documented, lesser known is an even more horrifying accusation leveled against China—the trafficking of human organs.

The Wall Street Journal reported that a team of researchers have proven that patients in China (including those that travel from abroad) are promised matching organs for transplant within a few days—an unbelievably short amount of time compared to the wait in Western countries which ranges from a few months to a few years. This is especially interesting given that organ donation is still culturally taboo in China.

So, where are these organs coming from? Some have accused China of forcibly removing organs from prisoners of conscience and selling them—a program of which Uyghur Muslims are among the victimized minorities.

Dr. Enver Tohti, a former surgeon from the Xinjiang province, has testified that China harvests organs from executed prisoners and sells them illegally. In the UK, the panel of the Independent Tribunal Into Forced Organ Harvesting From Prisoners of Conscience issued an interim judgement stating they were “certain—unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt—that in China, forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practised for a substantial period of time, involving a very substantial number of victims.”

Uyghurs across Xinjiang are forced by the government to undergo medical exams which include DNA sampling. Uyghur residents claim their information was stored in computers during the exam, but they were never given the results of the testing. According to reports by China’s state media, examinations were carried out on more than 90 percent of the population of Xinjiang. Chinese authorities claim that the Uyghurs’ DNA database is intended to help solve crimes and identify bodies. However, the great expense of the program and forced nature of the exams are causes for suspicion.

Who is buying these organs? Evidence suggests patients from over 20 countries have traveled to China for transplants, including Korea, Japan, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. The European Parliament has found that illegally harvested kidneys in China and elsewhere costs approximately $167,000 (150,000 Euros). 

Tohti has stated he believes most customers of Uyghur Muslim organs are wealthy Saudi transplant recipients and that China specifically markets these organs as “Halal” to appeal to Middle Eastern Muslims. Tohti argues that the reason for China’s compulsory blood sample collection from the Uyghur population is to develop a “live organ-matching database.”

The Chinese government is investing serious money into their DNA sampling program. China is clearly planning to profit from their human rights abuses—the rest of the world needs to make sure that they don’t. Israel, Taiwan, and Spain have already banned “organ tourism” to China—more countries need to join in to help stop this abuse. It’s imperative that governments take steps to ensure that their citizens aren’t traveling to fund and participate in human rights abuses abroad.

As trade talks between the U.S. and China continue, China’s human rights violations need to be at the forefront of the discussions. China’s organ trade isn’t a minor violation—it’s indicative of systematic harassment, abuse, and even murder of its religious minorities.

China Continues to Oppress the Uyghurs. Our Trade Talks Can Be a Platform for Change.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 13, 2019

Last week, WIRED featured a report on the Chinese government’s extensive use of technology as they continue to oppress religious minorities.

The Chinese government has been involved in a long-running series of crackdowns against their Uyghur population, a Muslim minority group. China currently holds approximately one million Uyghurs in prison camps, where they are subjected to torture and indoctrination by the communist party. China claims these are counter-terrorism measures.

As technology has evolved, it has provided the Chinese government with more tools to harass this community. In recent years, China has been monitoring social media apps—including WeChat, an app which uses the Uyghur language—supposedly to stamp out pornography and information leading to violence and terrorism.

Uyghurs are often arrested for information found on their phones, including downloading apps blocked in China such as WhatsApp, or being caught with religious content on their phones.

China’s Uyghur population is concentrated in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. China has started to use facial recognition technology to track Uyghurs throughout the province as they go about their day. Facial recognition devices are fixed to the entrances of supermarkets, malls, hospitals, and at police checkpoints every few hundred feet.

This report of China’s surveillance crackdown on one of their religious minority communities is a reminder of the serious violations of religious freedom that the Chinese government continues to perpetrate against its own people.

We can be thankful that the U.S. has a leader in President Trump who stands up to China and isn’t timid on the international stage. In addition to the positive impact religious freedom has on economic development, trade discussions can be a platform to raise human rights concerns and advance religious freedom for the benefit of oppressed communities. We can hope and pray that the Trump administration will use the current trade talks with China to do just that.

Asia Bibi Is Finally Free!

by Arielle Del Turco

May 8, 2019

This week marked a long-awaited victory for religious freedom when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for a blasphemy charge in Pakistan, was finally reunited with her family in Canada.

As confirmed by her lawyer Saif Ul Malook earlier this morning: After being freed from death row last year, the mother of five has arrived in Canada, on the heels of “repeated death threats from religious extremists in Pakistan, following the quashing of her conviction for blasphemy.”

Bibi had been separated from her family and was living in safe houses since her sentence was thrown out last year. (Bibi was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to death after she was accused of insulting the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a dispute with Muslim colleagues.) Her children are already in Canada, and she now joins them there.

It is encouraging to see Bibi finally released to a safe destination after her plight and quest for justice which lasted nearly ten years.

While this development is positive, it serves to highlight the continued threat to religious liberty posed by blasphemy laws.

Just last week, Family Research Council released a report on the status of apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-conversion laws (which threaten the ability to freely live out and choose or change one’s faith) around the world, and the threat they pose to religious freedom.

The most widespread of these types of laws, blasphemy laws prohibit insults to religion. Featured in many Muslim countries, these laws are often abused and used to settle unrelated disputes—this is exactly what Bibi claimed happened to her.

Even as we celebrate this victory, we must continue to monitor the status of these laws which inhibit the freedom of religious expression. 

UK Report: 80 Percent of World’s Persecuted Religious Believers Are Christian

by Arielle Del Turco

May 8, 2019

A new report out of the UK this week highlights the severity of anti-Christian persecution around the world. Commissioned by the Foreign Secretary, the report states that an overwhelming majority (estimated at 80 percent) of the world’s persecuted religious believers are Christians. It found that “evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity.”

The report features incidences of violent and social persecution committed against Christians by state and non-state actors. The trends presented are troubling.

In some African countries, such as in Mauritania, Islamic constitutions explicitly deny Christians their basic right to publicly express their religion. In South Asia, the growth of militant nationalism has been the main cause of Christian persecution. Furthermore, anti-conversion laws in South Asia explicitly prohibit people from converting to another religion, usually to protect the majority status of Hindu or Buddhist populations.

In East and Central Asia, authoritarian governments routinely discriminate against and intimidate Christians. Oppression experienced by Christians in several Asian countries is due to the influence Communist and nationalist ideologies have on their governments.

Even in Latin America, a largely Christian region, Christians have been “specifically targeted” for persecution from illegal organizations and paramilitary groups.

Yet, even in the face of these concerning developments, we have reasons to be hopeful. Some Middle East countries—such as the United Arab Emirates—are moving toward an openness to religious freedom. As evidence of this trend, the report cited the accord between the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed At-Tayyeb, and His Holiness Pope Francis in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year. At the signing, Dr. At-Tayyeb called on Muslims to protect Christian communities in the Middle East.

The Trump administration has played a part in the elevation of this issue on the global stage, having held the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department last July, with another planned for this year. Right now, the U.S. has other opportunities on the international stage to demonstrate the importance of religious freedom. As we continue to engage in trade negotiations with China, we have a pathway to pressure the Chinese government to cease its persecution of Uyghurs, along with its detention and harassment of Christians, theft of religious symbols, and destruction of churches.

The UK report also calls on the international community to take actions to protect Christians across the globe: “Given the scale of persecution of Christians today, indications that it is getting worse and that its impact involves the decimation of some of the faith group’s oldest and most enduring communities, the need for governments to give increasing priority and specific targeted support to this faith community is not only necessary but increasingly urgent.”

This much-needed attention on religious freedom comes on the heels of the release of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) report on the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom—which specifically highlighted the problems for religious freedom in China, Russia, and other oppressive states, in addition to the threat posed by cultural and legal opposition to religious freedom in much of the Islamic world. Just last week, Family Research Council released a report on the status of apostasy, blasphemy, and anti-conversion laws (which threaten the ability to choose or change one’s faith) around the world, and the threat they pose to religious freedom.

While it might be disheartening to learn about the hardships Christians face daily around the world, it is encouraging that this issue is starting to receive the national and international attention it deserves. If we do not remain informed, advocate for policies protecting Christian communities, and submit these things to God in prayer, nothing will change.

Arielle Del Turco is the Research Assistant for FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty.

Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Anti-Conversion Laws Are Violating Religious Freedom

by Family Research Council

May 2, 2019

There is unprecedented religious persecution around the globe. In recent years, the Pew Research Center has found increasing governmental and social hostility toward religious believers worldwide. For the last ten years, Christians have been harassed in more countries, including the United States, than any other religious group, and in 2016, one or more religious groups were harassed in 187 countries globally.

While the specific threats to religious freedom vary in type and intensity, one common source is the legal and cultural support for apostasy, blasphemy, and/or anti-conversion laws, which often threaten the freedom to choose and/or change one’s faith.

  • Apostasy laws punish people who “apostasize” and convert away from Islam. Across much of the Muslim world, apostasy laws—backed by social pressure—are used to deter apostasy and sometimes punish even allegations of the crime. These laws prevent Muslims from freely choosing their faith— whether Christianity or anything else.
  • Blasphemy laws generally prohibit insults to religion and are the most widespread of these three types of laws. In many places, while still on the books, such laws are no longer enforced or even used. But in other places, again in many Muslim majority countries, they are often abused when allegations of blasphemy are made against religious minorities—often with no evidence—to settle unrelated disputes and vendettas.
  • Anti-conversion laws, quite simply, prohibit people from converting to another religion. Primarily in place in parts of the Hindu and Buddhist world, anti-conversion laws are used by governments to maintain a majority of the population within their preferred religion.

While threats to religious freedom arise from other sources, these three types of laws and the cultural support behind them are major threats to the freedom to choose one’s faith—and thus to religious freedom worldwide.

Punishment for those convicted of violating such laws can include marriage annulment, property confiscation, prison sentences, or death sentences. A number of countries can impose the death penalty for violations of such laws, including: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia (in certain states), Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Additionally, a mere allegation of a violation often results in intense social hostility from one’s community and family members, who retaliate with anything from slight harassment all the way up to violence resulting in death.

Drafted out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaims in Article 18 that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (emphasis added). The laws listed and described here, and the social acceptance behind them, are a direct threat to religious freedom as articulated in the UDHR.

FRC’s new publication Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Anti-Conversion Laws is a list of countries that have apostasy, blasphemy, and/or anti-conversion laws on the books, though not all such laws are still actively used. Moreover, some are not likely to be used or are effectively nullified by other legal measures or constitutional rights which take precedence. However, for purposes of understanding where these laws have been or are in place, they have been left in this publication.

Examples of enforcement and cultural impact are provided for some of the countries where these laws are still enforced or have influence. When we understand how these laws work, and how they serve as obstacles to religious freedom around the globe, we can better advocate for the freedom of all people worldwide.

Read the full report here.

Also, don’t miss a discussion on this new report with FRC President Tony Perkins and Travis Weber, the Director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty.

Fighting Religious Persecution with Mustard Seeds

by Caleb Seals

February 18, 2019

Due to security concerns, the location of this country cannot be disclosed.

For someone who has never been outside of America, I was pumped up about going on my first mission trip overseas. Before the journey, our group went through an intensive preparation course. This course required us to grow in our faith, prepare our armor, and know the laws of the land we were traveling to. We had to practice praying with our eyes open, talk in coded language, and have the ability to detect undercover law enforcement.

The country that we were going to was not Christian-friendly, to put it mildly. We were officially traveling as tourists in a hiking club. We would need to constantly be alert for authorities that could be following us. Per the country’s laws, we were banned from teaching the Bible or sharing the gospel. Of course, that wasn’t going to stop us.

After over 20 hours of flying, we finally arrived at our destination. The very next day, we left the city and went into the outer countryside to start our mission. For the first few days, we stayed in host homes that were a part of small villages on the mountainside. We used translators to speak and encourage believers in their walk with Jesus.

After news of our arrival spread, we were constantly stopped and asked to come in to people’s homes so that they could question us about our activities and take a group picture with their phones. It is also important to note that most of these people had other gods in their life. In almost every hut we went into, there were false idols that they would worship. Many people in these communities seemed to mostly put their hope in the local fortune teller.

After visiting multiple villages, we then set out to a region that no other group had gone to before us. This area had never even heard the name of Jesus, let alone knew what a Bible was. Due to the threat of being compromised, we simply spoke to the people in this area and did prayer walks. During our prayer walks, we would drop mustard seeds, hoping that the Holy Spirit would fill that area (Matthew 17:20).

At the camp, there were undercover officers who posed as fishermen that were sent there by the government to observe our activities and document who we were in contact with. Most of our friends in the country that traveled with us had left so that they would not be endangered.

One night, after an interesting encounter with a fortune teller, we arrived back to our camp. Our host, along with the law enforcement officers, told us that our time staying there was over. I had no idea what to expect. I had heard of several stories in the news about Christians being persecuted and had no idea what would happen to us. We immediately thought of the worst possible outcomes. Are they going to arrest us? Will we be able to return home? What will happen to the contacts we made in the area? The authorities then told us that we were required to leave the area immediately, but we had no idea where to go.

We loaded up the van and had to leave in the middle of the night to a hotel hours away. To securely inform our church of what had just transpired, we had to talk in the bathroom and turn the water on to avoid eavesdroppers. Eventually, we found out that the government compensated visiting tourists to find out information about us. We eventually left the country without any further problems.

On our flight home, I reflected on our journey and prayed that it was not a waste of time. We were all a little discouraged because we did not know why God would send us there only to be shipped right back home again.

Several months after we returned home, we got an update from our contact in the country where we had spent our mission trip. Our contact stated that since our departure, hundreds of people had been saved in the same area where we did not even mention the name of Jesus and had merely prayed while dropping mustard seeds. It was awesome to see how God revealed himself through only the faith of a mustard seed!

Since then, we continue to pray for the Holy Spirit to move every day in that country. It is obvious from the news that not all stories about international religious persecution end as safely as ours did. You saw what happened with Pastor Brunson. You see what is happening with the persecution of our brothers and sisters by ISIS. You see what is happening in China. We need to remember that we have millions of brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world who risk their freedom and their lives every day, merely for being Christian. I hope that you will join me in praying for the persecuted Christians around the globe.

Caleb Seals is an intern at Family Research Council.

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