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US State Department report: China among worst offenders of religious freedom

@Catholic Herald

Top US State Department officials have singled out China as one of the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom because it had subjected religious minorities to imprisonment and forced labour.

Sam Brownback, ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, told reporters during a news conference June 10 that the US Department of State had no evidence that Muslim Uighurs had been released from prison or detention and that workers had been placed into forced labour.

The comments from Brownback and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the release of the annual Report on International Religious Freedom covering 2019 continued the U.S. government’s monthslong campaign of strong criticism of the Chinese government’s actions on a number of fronts.

The report follows the signing of an executive order June 2 by President Donald Trump prioritizing U.S. support for religious freedom in diplomacy worldwide.

China has been designated a “country of particular concern” in annual reports dating to 1999.

“China continues its decades-long war on faith,” Pompeo told reporters.

“The Chinese Communist Party is now ordering religious organizations to obey CCP leadership and infuse communist dogma into their teachings and practice of their faith,” he added. “The mass detentions of Uighurs in Xinjiang continues. So does the repression of Tibetans and Buddhists and Falun Gong and Christians.”

The section on China was the largest in the report. It cited widespread discrimination of Uighur Muslims as a cause for particular concern.

The Chinese government recognizes five official religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. Members of each of these religious groups must register before they can participate in religious services. Many faith practitioners have reported they are subject to surveillance and persecution, however.

The report said the Chinese government continued to justify restrictions on religious practices of Muslims in Xinjiang because of what it called the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorism.”

More than 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui and members of other Muslim groups as well as Uighur Christians have been held in internment camps in Xinjiang, the report said. Those being held have been subjected to “forced disappearance, political indoctrination, torture, physical and psychological abuse, including forced sterilization and sexual abuse, forced labor, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity,” it said.

The report also identified other countries for infringements on religious freedom such as Nigeria, Vietnam, India and Saudi Arabia.

Pompeo pointed to positive developments in terms of actions being taken to hold violators of religious freedom accountable:

— Gambia has charged in a case in the International Court of Justice that Myanmar has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya ethnic group.

— Uzbekistan has boosted religious freedom and ended police raids on unregistered religious groups.

— United Arab Emirates has become the first Middle East country to allow the construction of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The report also credited the Democratic Republic of the Congo for improving relations between the government and religious communities since the inauguration of President Felix Tshisekedi in January 2019, based on media reports and statements from religious leaders.

“Unlike the year prior, there were no reports of acts of violence or intimidation against Catholic Church officials by the government. In March, the government freed several political prisoners from the Catholic lay community (CLC) who had been arrested in 2018 for leading protests, which nongovernmental organizations and others had called an arbitrary action,” the report said.

The report is based on the findings of individual U.S. embassies in each nation. U.S. diplomats gather information from government officials, religious groups, non-governmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, media and others, said the report’s introduction.

The State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom also collects and analyzes additional information from separate sources.


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