As a precursor to the largest religious freedom gathering ever, religious rights supporters gathered in 15 cities last week and on social media for simultaneous rallies designed to draw attention to governments that persecute religious minorities and the U.S. companies that do business with them.
“This crisis, which is nearing genocidal proportions, is being widely ignored and has been allowed to continue unchecked,” read a statement by organizers Save the Persecuted Christians. “We say NO MORE! It’s time to call out the persecutors—and their enablers—hold them accountable and secure significant penalties on state and non-state offenders.”
Standing in front of the law offices of Squire Patton Boggs, LLP, in Washington, DC, rally participants representing Christian, Muslim, and other religious freedom organizations held signs that read: “Stop the Persecution of Believers”. The international law firm has been criticized by human rights groups for representing governments such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar that oppress religious minorities.
“The work to advance religious freedom is being thwarted [by companies that] are serving the interests of Communist China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Cameroon, and the Palestinian Authority,” said Save the Persecuted Christians President and CEO Frank Gaffney. “We urge you to become knowledgeable about this problem, and to do what you can to help … to get the attention of the world through the miracle of social media virtual rallies about what’s happening here, who is responsible, who is enabling it, and what must now no longer be tolerated.”
According to its website Squire Patton Boggs has 47 offices in 20 countries and is “one of the 30 largest law firms in the world by total headcount and gross revenue, twelfth largest firm in the UK by revenue, and one of the top 10 by number of countries occupied.” It is additionally “one of the largest US-headquartered law firms in Asia.”
In a letter addressed to Squire Patton Boggs Chairman and Global CEO Mark Ruehlmann delivered to the firm’s DC office, Gaffney and 44 civil society leaders representing Christians, Muslims, Falun Gong practitioners, Buddhists, and other persecuted religious minorities, urged Ruehlmann to consider the egregious human rights violations committed by the governments his firm represents. Religious freedom advocates in the other participating cities also delivered letters to regional Squire Patton Boggs law offices July 10.
“We write to you as advocates for religious freedom out of a shared concern that foreign governments represented by your firm are among the world’s most aggressive persecutors of people of faith,” reads the letter. “It is deeply troubling to us that your prestigious firm and the many good people it employs are currently associated with and providing legal counsel, representation and other services to such nations.”
Last week’s rallies are part of a larger accountability campaign by letter signatories to compel national legislators to convince Squire Patton Boggs and other global companies to end their representation of oppressive governments. Save the Persecuted Christians is also circulating a petition addressed to the Trump administration and members of congress asking members of the executive and legislative branches “to decline to meet or do business with those who engage in such lobbying on behalf of persecutors.”
During a May 1 kick-off news conference at the National Press Club letter co-signers and other civil society leaders said the systematic persecution and oppression of religious minorities is currently greater than at any other time in history. This is supported by the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom’s 2018 report which states that 80 percent of the world’s population currently lives in places where religious freedom is “highly restricted” and where religious minorities face oppression that is directly tied to their religious faith and practices.
“No law firm should represent a country that is taking Uyghur Muslim children and women and putting them in internment camps modeled after what Mao and Stalin did,” former Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said at the press conference. Wolf, who is also the author of the 2016 International Religious Freedom Act, added that during the Carter and Reagan administrations “no law firm or public relations group in this city would have ever represented the Soviet Union. There’s been a shift.”
July 10 DC rally participants included representatives of the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, who are seeking to draw attention to China’s treatment of ethnic Uyghur Muslims—more than three million of whom are estimated to be in custody in detention centers in western China. China refers to East Turkistan as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or “New Territory”, and is “re-educating” Uyghur Muslims in detention camps where it separates parents from their children.
“China is engaged in systematic repression of every religious minority, including by controlling access to information via the Internet,” reads the letter. “Uyghur Muslims experience oppressive surveillance, forced DNA collection and incarceration. … The Chinese government has also been destroying Protestant and Catholic churches, arresting clerics and their congregants for decades. Recently they have also begun offering rewards for revealing information about where they secretly gather for worship. It is subjecting Falun Gong and other faiths’ believers to involuntary and often murderous organ-harvesting. Tibetan Buddhists suffer cultural genocide.”
A media spokesperson for Squire Patton Boggs did not return calls for comment.
The rallies preceded the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom being held in Washington, DC, this week where religious leaders, civil society organizations, and high-ranking officials from nations around the world are meeting to discuss how to effectively combat the growing discrimination, intolerance, abuse, and genocide that is targeting minority groups who simply desire to exercise their religious freedoms.
At the ministerial’s opening event yesterday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed more than 100 invited foreign delegations and more than 1,000 representatives from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Falun Gong, and secular backgrounds, to the event held at the U.S. State Department.
“I want to thank everyone here who has committed a part of their life to helping those who are persecuted and to defending the unalienable right to practice one’s religion and follow their conscience and to take care of their soul,” Pompeo said. “Despite our many differences, everyone here agrees on the need for religious pluralism. And we all agree that fighting so that each person is free to believe, free to assemble, and to teach the tenets of his or her own faith is not optional – indeed, it is a moral imperative that this be permitted.”
Sheryl Henderson Blunt is a former senior writer for Christianity Today and a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Alumna whose articles and reporting have appeared in Congressional Quarterly, The Philanthropy Roundtable, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, and other publications.