Category archives: Religious Persecution

China’s Tragic War on Uyghur Women

by Arielle Del Turco

December 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Rubio Takes a Stand Against Uyghur Forced Labor

by Arielle Del Turco

December 2, 2021

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

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

Rubio explained the issue on the Senate floor yesterday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Arielle Del Turco

November 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Arielle Del Turco

November 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Round-Up: Protecting Florists, Bakers, and T-shirt Makers From State Discrimination

by Nicolas Reynolds , Ben Householder

November 16, 2021

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about key provisions that states have advanced in 2021 to defend the family and human dignity.

Religious freedom is foundational to America’s national identity, having been enshrined within the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But in many states, people of faith and people of no faith affiliation are increasingly being attacked for living in accordance with their sincerely-held beliefs about natural marriage and biological sex.

Hands On Originals, a Louisville T-shirt maker that both serves and employs individuals who identify as homosexual, was sued for refusing to print shirts in support of a 2012 gay pride festival. Barronelle Stutzman, a flower-arranger from Richland, Washington, was forced to pay thousands of dollars in fines by the state for declining to arrange flowers for the same-sex wedding of a long-time customer. In the same year, Jack Phillips, a baker from Lakewood, Colorado, was sued for declining to design a cake for a same-sex wedding. The same thing happened to Melissa Klein of Gresham, Oregon in 2013. Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired in 2015 for writing a devotional book that mentioned the biblical teaching that sex should be reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. Hundreds more examples of governmental discrimination against people of faith could be given, and new ones seem to occur every week.

Thankfully, state legislators are taking preventative action by introducing Government Nondiscrimination Acts (GNDAs), which seek to ensure that Americans will never be discriminated against by their government for affirming natural marriage and biological sex. These bills prohibit the government from taking any adverse action against individuals for their religious beliefs regarding marriage and sexuality. GNDAs have been introduced in 18 states since 2015. Almost half of the 41 bills were introduced in 2016. A cause of action has been added to most versions, giving them much stronger enforcement mechanisms.

Contrary to the often-hysterical accusations of GNDA opponents, these bills do not limit or regulate same-sex marriage and never exempt any individual or entity from providing services that are necessary to protect the life, health, or safety of another person. GNDAs do not allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; rather, they protect people from government discrimination if they refuse to violate their sincerely-held religious beliefs or moral convictions.

No person should be subjected to government discrimination for following their religious beliefs or moral convictions regarding natural marriage or biological sex. Whether one bakes cakes, designs T-shirts, arranges flowers, or officiates weddings, Americans should be able to live and work in a manner consistent with their sincerely-held convictions. With state and even local officials increasingly suing individuals, even in “conservative” states, Government Nondiscrimination Acts are desperately needed if America is to live up to its reputation as a haven of liberty.

Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan Oppress Another Victim

by Arielle Del Turco , Cristina Cevallos

November 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House Democrats Want to Fund… Companies That Oppress Uyghurs?

by Arielle Del Turco

November 5, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enes Kanter Brings Much-Needed Courage to the NBA

by Arielle Del Turco

October 25, 2021

Courage is an increasingly rare trait in American professional sports. But Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics is choosing to rise above the cowardice that seems to have infiltrated most of the NBA and is taking on the world’s most powerful authoritarian regime, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Kanter took to social media last week to raise awareness about one of the Chinese government’s lesser-known brutal crackdowns happening in the remote region of Tibet.

In a video on Twitter, Kanter said, “My message for the Chinese government is ‘free Tibet.’ Tibet belongs to Tibetans.” He spoke these words while wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of the Dalai Lama. That same image is illegal to display even in private homes in Tibet.

Under the Chinese government’s brutal rule, Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are non-existent,” Kanter continued. The reality is, he pointed out, that the Chinese government has put an entire region under lockdown. Tibetans can’t learn about Tibetan culture. Their movement is restricted. And they have no religious freedom.

Chinese troops first invaded Tibet in 1950, shortly after Mao Zedong came to power. During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government sought to destroy the culture and religious beliefs that made Tibet unique. For over 70 years, this has caused a great deal of suffering for Tibetans, especially those who want to retain their Tibetan Buddhist religious beliefs.

The battle against brutal dictators isn’t merely political for Kanter—it’s personal. Kanter was raised in Turkey but spoke out against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s thuggish regime, which is known for assaulting critics, repressing democracy, and wrongfully detaining innocent people.

Kanter’s outspokenness has cost him. Turkey revoked his passport. He cannot travel abroad for fear of arrest by Turkish authorities. He was even disinvited to participate in a kid’s basketball camp after a Turkish consulate threatened the New York mosque at which the camp was being held.

Erdogan is a notorious bully, much like China’s thin-skinned leaders. So, Kanter was likely prepared when the Chinese government blocked Celtics NBA games from airing in China in response to his comments about Tibet.

To bring his advocacy to the basketball court, Kanter asked Badiucao, a Chinese cartoonist, to design a pair of shoes that read “Free Tibet” and feature imagery representing the Tibetan plight. Badiucao told The Washington Post, “It surprised me, indeed, because of the potential risks that Enes is taking for this project. To act and support people not from your country, it’s a profound and rare character.” Kanter planned to wear the shoes in a game last week, but coaches did not put him in the game.

The NBA has a history of cowardice when it comes to China. When Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey posted a single tweet supporting Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors, Chinese broadcasters immediately threatened to cut ties. Under pressure, Morey retracted his statement, and the Houston Rockets and the NBA distanced themselves from Morey’s tweet.

But Kanter is no Morey. Instead of backing down, Kanter is expanding his human rights advocacy in China beyond Tibet. Last Friday, he posted another video to Twitter explaining the situation that Uyghur Muslims face in Xinjiang.

There is a genocide happening right now,” Kanter said. “Torture, rape, forced abortions and sterilizations, family separations, arbitrary detentions, concentration camps, political reeducation, forced labor. This is all happening right now to more than 1.8 million Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region in northwestern China.” In the same video, Kanter also called out the leaders of Muslim-majority countries for being silent about the Chinese government’s genocide.

Kanter’s message to Chinese leadership is simple: “Close down the slave labor camps and free the Uyghur people. Stop the genocide now.”

The possible consequences for Kanter’s bold words remain to be seen. It’s not easy for professional athletes to go up against the Chinese government and the enormous Chinese market. It takes courage, something Kanter has in spades.

While it’s common for professional athletes to promote woke social campaigns, few pay attention to the many ongoing human rights crises around the world. Tibetans, Uyghurs, and other oppressed peoples are desperate for the world to know their plight and speak up on their behalf. Kanter is a hero for doing exactly that.

Pew Finds High Rate of Global Restrictions on Religion

by Arielle Del Turco and Cristina Cevallos

October 12, 2021

Each year, the Pew Research Center publishes a report assessing the extent to which governments and societies around the world restrict religious beliefs and practices. This year’s report—which examines 198 countries and contains data up through 2019—shows how much more work needs to be done to protect religious freedom globally.

Social Hostility to Religion Declines Slightly

Let’s start with the good news. The report’s Social Hostilities Index measures acts of hostility to religion by private individuals, organizations, or groups in society. Examples of hostility include religion-related terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment, and other forms of intimidation or abuse. In 2018, 53 countries (27 percent) had “high” or “very high” levels of social hostility, but in 2019 this number was reduced to 43 (22 percent), the lowest it has been since 2009.

Religion-related terrorism incidents (such as deaths, physical abuse, displacement, detentions, destruction of property, and fundraising and recruitment by terrorist groups) are also in decline. According to the Global Terrorism Database, 49 countries experienced at least one of these actions. However, 2019 was the fifth consecutive year of declining global terrorism rates. This decline is largely due to ISIS having lost control in many parts of the world, even though it continued to commit attacks such as the one in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in 2019 that killed more than 250 people and injured approximately 500 others.

Afghanistan is the greatest exception to these statistics. In 2019, the number of terrorist incidents by the Taliban in Afghanistan increased. Now that the terrorist group has taken control of the entire country, this trend will likely continue to worsen.

Notably, Christians are still the group most likely to be on the receiving end of religious harassment. In 2019, countries harassing Christians increased from 145 to 153. 

Government Restrictions Remain High

The report’s Government Restrictions Index measures government laws, policies, and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices. In 2019, the number of government restrictions reached its highest level since 2007. Most of the countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions were located either in the Asia-Pacific region or in the Middle East-North Africa region.

Pew’s study reveals that government harassment and interference against religious groups were present in 163 countries (82 percent). All 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region and 91 percent of the European nations had this type of occurrence. These include governments prohibiting certain religious practices, withholding access to places of worship, or denying permits for religious activities or buildings.

High-Tech Threats to Religious Freedom

For the first time, Pew’s study measured governments’ use of online restrictions and advanced technologies (such as surveillance cameras, facial recognition technology, and biometric data) to target religious groups. Pew found that 28 countries (14 percent) have some type of online restriction of religious activity, and 10 countries use technology to surveil religious groups. Most of the countries were located in either the Asia-Pacific region or in the Middle East-North Africa region.

For example, in the United Arab Emirates, the government blocked websites with information on Judaism, Christianity, and atheism. Iran launched cyberattacks against religious minorities. China installed surveillance equipment in houses of worship, used facial recognition technology to monitor and collect biometric data on Uyghur Muslims, and installed software on their phones to monitor their calls and messages. 

Government Repression Is Brutally Enforced

Worst of all, Pew found that 48 percent of all nations used force against religious groups in 2019. China, Myanmar, Sudan, and Syria tallied over 10,000 use-of-force incidents each. These incidents include property damage, detention, arrests, ongoing displacement, physical abuse, and killings.

Among the 25 largest nations (which account for 75 percent of the world’s population), Egypt, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Russia recorded the highest overall levels of restrictions and hostilities against religious people.

Conclusion

Pew’s report demonstrates that many governments are attacking religious freedom rather than protecting it as a human right. Although much has changed since 2019, including a global pandemic, government attitudes seem to remain hostile to people of faith. For now, we can rejoice in the moderately good news that social hostility to religion declined slightly even as we take action to combat problematic global trends. Religious freedom for all people everywhere is worth fighting for.

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

China Must Stop Sending North Korean Defectors Back into Grave Danger

by Arielle Del Turco , Tyler Watt

September 29, 2021

North Korea is infamous for having one of the worst human rights records on earth. In recognition of this fact, some human rights advocates dubbed September 24, 2021, as “Save North Korean Refugees Day.”

Crossing the border into China is the only option for most North Koreans trying to escape from North Korea. Yet, when they arrive in China, they face a whole new set of dangers. Most North Korean defectors are women, and most are sold into human trafficking once they arrive in China, often as brides for Chinese men.

Defectors who are caught by Chinese authorities and sent back to North Korea face an even worse fate, as the North Korean regime brutally punishes repatriated defectors. North Korean Freedom Coalition Chair Suzanne Scholte says that “certain torture, imprisonment and potential death” await the defectors upon their forced return to North Korea.

One Christian North Korean defector, Ji Hyeona, has shared her harrowing story of enduring a forced abortion in a North Korean labor camp after she was repatriated (the regime does not recognize half-Chinese children). She said:

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 is the level of cruelty experienced by repatriated defectors.

The threat posed to religious freedom by these brutal repatriations should not be ignored. Upon their return to North Korea, one of the first questions defectors are asked by authorities is if they met any Christian missionaries. Responding in the affirmative would guarantee time in a labor camp or even a death sentence.

Many North Korean defectors encounter Christianity for the first time while in China, either by South Korean missionaries ministering to them or by seeking help from Chinese churches. For newly converted Christians, returning to North Korea is all the more dangerous. The North Korean regime views religion of any sort as a threat to the Kim regime’s stranglehold on the minds of its citizens—a threat they will brutally suppress.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea has become even more isolated and repressive. The U.S. State Department recently issued a statement condemning the North Korean regime for the “increasingly draconian measures [it] has taken, including shoot-to-kill orders at the North Korea-China border, to tighten control of its people under the guise of fighting COVID-19.” With devastating conditions such as these, it is all the more important that China stop repatriating North Korean defectors.

North Korea’s human rights violations, especially those against repatriated defectors, are well-documented. China is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which states that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. With North Korea’s long history of human rights violations, it is wrong for China to repatriate defectors back to North Korea. Instead, Beijing should cooperate with the South Korean government to help bring defectors to South Korea, a safe country that is ready and willing to take them.

Letters sent to President Xi Jinping and Chinese ambassadors have called upon the Chinese government to uphold the human rights of the defectors and pursue a plan to resettle to willing countries, especially South Korea which offers defectors automatic citizenship. Activists are delivering appeals for a change in policy at more than a dozen Chinese embassies located around the world.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused a brief pause in China’s repatriation of defectors, they have since resumed, placing thousands of North Korean defectors currently in China at risk. Now more than ever, the Chinese government should be held accountable for sending defectors back to certain punishment in North Korea.

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