On June 21st, the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom released its latest report on International Religious Freedom across the globe, which contained both positive examples of lessening of religious persecution but also focused on many of the world’s largest nations in religious persecution. The report focused on ten countries in particular: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
In a special section of the report dedicated specifically to China, the report documented China’s Xinjiang providence where between 800,000 and one million Uighur Muslims have been detained and subjected to “forced disappearances, torture, physical abuse and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity.” China has long been viewed as a major proponent and instigator of religious persecution, targeting members of many faiths including both Christianity and Islam.
Members of underground Christian churches in China face the threat of arrrest and forced demolition. Authorities require these churches to install surveillance cameras and have forced house church members to sign papers renouncing their faith.
This report led both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback to rebuke China for its “war on faith.” Brownback stated, “We’ve seen increasing Chinese government abuse of believers of nearly all faiths and from all parts of the mainland. They’ve increased their repression of Christians, shutting down churches and arresting adherents for their peaceful religious practices.”
Pompeo also mentioned some good news in his statement, highlighting improvements in Uzbekistan, which for the first time in ten years is no longer designated as a country of particular concern by the State Department and the releases of Asia Bibi, released by Pakistan after being charged with blasphemy against Muhammed, and pastor Andrew Brunson, released by Turkey after a two-year imprisonment on terrorism and espionage charges.
However, while some progress is being made, there are still more than 40 individuals in Pakistan still being held and facing life sentences or execution for blasphemy against Muhammed and Turkey is still 27th on the World Watch List, which ranks nations based on their religious persecution.
Brownback stated, “We will not stop until the iron curtain of religious freedom comes down, until governments no longer detain and torture people for simply being of a particular faith or associated with it.”
In order to better assess and respond to religious persecution across the globe, Pompeo announced that the Office of International Religious Freedom, along with the State Department’s office dedicated to monitoring and fighting anti-Semitism, are being elevated at the State Department and now report directly to the undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights. Pompeo believes that this will help to streamline many of the actions of the two offices and to help to combat the rise of religious persecution that has continued to increase across the globe.
Pompeo concluded his address by stating, “For all those that run roughshod over religious freedom, I’ll say this: The United States is watching, and you will be held to account.”