Human rights advocates told a bipartisan congressional commission yesterday that Christians and other religious minorities in China, Nigeria, Iran, and other countries are being killed, imprisoned, tortured, and discriminated against for their faith, and it’s getting worse.
The hearing comes after coordinated suicide attacks on multiple churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday targeting the country’s minority Christian community left 290 people dead and 500 injured, including many children. The Sri Lankan government attributes the bombings to the National Thowheed Jamaath, an Islamist militia believed to have ISIS connections.
“As shocking as such news was, I cannot say it was surprising,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) who co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).
“We stand for human dignity and respect for life of whomever is oppressed,” said Smith, “and this commission has and will continue to highlight the suffering of religious minorities around the globe.”
The June 27 hearing was held to publicize violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Under its Article 18: “Everyone 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.”
It is estimated that nearly 80 percent of the global population experiences severe limitations on their right to practice their chosen religion or faith.
In his testimony before the commission Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, head of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, said that Christians are currently being targeted in 144 countries and are facing “the most wide-spread harassment of any religious group,” according to a recent Pew study. Religious persecution in Iran and Nigeria is particularly egregious, he said, and is also on the rise in China.
“The current assault on China’s religious minorities under President Xi Jinping – especially on Christians, Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhists – is the most comprehensive attempt to manipulate and control religion since the Cultural Revolution,” said Religious Freedom Institute President Thomas Farr in his testimony. “Xi’s policy should be seen as a particularly troubling aspect of the global crisis in religious freedom, one in which over three-quarters of the world’s people live in nations where religion is highly, or very highly, restricted. China is one of those nations.”
During the hearing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) asked about the persecution of Muslim minority groups, which is also on the rise. Omar, a member of the commission, is co-sponsoring a bill that would attempt to hold accountable officials from Brunei who recently implemented a new draconian penal code that mandates stoning for adultery, same-sex relations, blasphemy, and theft. Under the Islamic code women who have abortions are to be flogged.
Omar also asked witnesses about Uyghur Muslims being detained in Chinese Communist camps. According to The New York Times, Muslims in such camps are being ordered to renounce their devotion to Islam and have been detained for “reciting a verse of the Quran at a funeral.”
Farr said that Christians, Uyghur Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhists in China are being targeted for “violent repression” due to “the native communist need to control and maintain power.”
According to Christian advocacy organization Open Doors USA President David Curry, Christians globally are facing a dramatic rise in violent attacks over previous years—a reality the group attributes to the spread of Islamic jihadist ideology in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, and Iraq, along with increasing extreme nationalism among Hindu leaders in Asia, particularly in India.
“It’s resulted in a shocking rise of attacks in [Indian] Christian churches, with nearly 300 churches attacked thus far in 2019 and hundreds of cases of pastors held without trial—just for being Christian pastors,” Curry testified.
According to Open Doors’ World Watch List, more than 4,000 Christians were killed worldwide for “faith-related” reasons, and more than 1,200 Christian churches or buildings were attacked between October 31, 2017 and November 1, 2018.
In her testimony Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Nadine Maenza highlighted religious persecution in Eritrea, where the government has been shutting down Catholic-run hospitals and arresting and detaining Christians. Since June, five Orthodox priests and 30 Pentecostal Christians have been arrested in the country. Earlier this month 141 Christians, predominantly women and children, were detained and many are believed to remain in custody.
“We must stand in solidarity with those who suffer,” said Maenza. “We must remind the persecuted that the world has not forgotten them.”