By / Feb 15

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 15, 2024—Hannah Daniel, director of public policy for The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation Feb. 15 to “support the human rights of Uyghurs and members of other minority groups residing primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and safeguard their distinct identity, and for other purposes,” as stated in the Uyghur Policy Act. 

The ERLC recently announced its support for increased protections for the Uyghur People in China as a policy priority in its 2024 public policy agenda.

“Since the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Act in 2021, there has been little action in Congress to push back on the heinous actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghurs,” said Daniel. “We are pleased to see the House of Representatives take this strong, bipartisan step in passing the Uyghur Policy Act, which will mandate a higher prioritization of ending this genocide in the United States’ dealings with China. Southern Baptists have spoken clearly on this issue, and we now urge the Senate to swiftly pass this vital legislation.” 

In 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention became the first denomination to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide and adopted a resolution at its annual meeting that condemned the Chinese Communist Party’s oppression primarily of Uyghur Muslims in a western region of the world’s most populous country. It also called for the U.S. government to take “concrete actions” to end the genocide.

The ERLC will continue to prioritize efforts to advocate against this ongoing genocide and urges the U.S. Senate to join the House in passing this legislation that would further protect this persecuted people group. 

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected] 

By / Sep 8

For years, the Uyghur people living in the Xinjiang region of western China have endured brutality at the hands of the Chinese government. Many have been “subjected to reeducation camps, forced labor, and even forced sterilization in women.” In January 2021, “[then] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an official determination that the People’s Republic of China is ‘committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, for targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.’” The Biden administration affirmed that determination shortly after.

On Aug. 31, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner followed suit by releasing a long-awaited report detailing the Chinese government’s “serious human rights violations” in Xinjiang. In the report, we find more of what we’ve known for years: the Chinese government’s actions include oppression, ethnic and religious persecution, and “may constitute crimes against humanity.” 

Recap

As the ERLC outlined in a previous article

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, China’s western-most territory, where Uyghurs have lived for centuries. Under the guise of national security, the CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. Life for many Uyghurs is a living nightmare.

OHCHR report findings

The 48-page report is organized into eight sections, the bulk of which outline the extent by which the CCP’s crimes are being carried out. Under the guise of “countering terrorism and extemism,” as the report states, the Chinese government is actively subjecting those they deem to be “suspects” and “at risk persons” to “imprisonment and other deprivations of liberty” at facilities which the CCP conveniently refers to as “vocational education and training centres.” The conditions and treatment of the persons detained at these centers, as described by former detainees, are horrific. 

The report goes on to outline what it refers to as “other human rights concerns,” which includes the mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities; a disregard for people’s right to privacy and freedom of movement through “extensive forms of intensive surveillance and control” by the CCP; violations of reproductive rights, including forced abortions and sterilizations; and forced labor. Further, the report sheds light on what it calls “family separations, enforced disappearances, intimidations, threats, and reprisals,” saying that “the widespread arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities in XUAR, often shrouded in secrecy, has led to many families being separated and unaware of the whereabouts of their loved ones.” Victims of the CCP’s persecution and their relatives are routinely subjected to criticisms, intimidations, threats, and reprisals for speaking about their experiences in Xinjiang. 

Detention center conditions and treatment

Based on what we’ve learned about the CCP’s “systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims,” the OHCHR report’s assessment of “adverse conditions and harsh treatment of detainees by the authorities in the VETC (Vocational Education and Training Centres) facilities” is sadly unsurprising. Of the former detainees who were interviewed for the report, two-thirds of them “reported having been subjected to treatment that would amount to torture and/or other forms of ill-treatment.” They describe “being beaten with batons, including electric batons; being subjected to interrogation with water being poured in their faces; prolonged solitary confinement; and being forced to sit motionless on small stools for prolonged periods of time.” They, likewise, describe being beaten, shackled, starved, deprived of sleep, forbidden from praying or otherwise practicing their religion, forbidden from speaking their native language, and being subjected to compulsory political indoctrination.

In addition, detainees report having pills and/or injections “administered regularly, as well as blood samples being regularly collected” during their detainment. Many endured sexual violence, including rape and forced nudity. Due to these harsh conditions and treatment, persistent health issues were prevalent, including psychological distress and “stress and anxiety.” Many people who were interviewed reported “long-term psychological consequences from their periods of confinement at VETC facilities, including feelings of trauma.”

OHCHR assessment and recommendations

The final section of the OHCHR report opens by saying, emphatically, that

Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR in the context of the Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-“extremism” strategies. The implementation of these strategies, and associated policies in XUAR has led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights. These patterns of restrictions are characterized by a discriminatory component, as the underlying acts often directly or indirectly affect Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities.

After a lengthy list of items outlining its assessment, the OHCHR report proceeds to outline a list of recommendations, both to the government of China and to the international business community. Its recommendations to the Chinese government include:

  • The immediate release of “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in XUAR, whether in VETCs, prisons or other detention facilities.”
  • A full review of the legal framework governing national security, counter-terrorism and minority rights in XUAR to ensure their compliance with binding international human rights law, and urgently repeal all discriminatory laws, policies and practices against Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities in XUAR.
  • A prompt investigation into allegations of human rights violations in VETCs and other detention facilities, including allegations of torture, sexual violence, ill-treatment, forced medical treatment, as well as forced labour and reports of deaths in custody.

To the international business community, the OHCHR’s recommendations encourage a strengthened and concerted effort “to respect human rights across activities and business relationships,” to “strengthen human rights risk assessments,” and to “support efforts to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights in the XUAR region.”

Upon the report’s publication, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded by saying, “The United States welcomes this important report, which describes authoritatively the appalling treatment and abuses of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” Furthermore, Blinken said, 

We will continue to work closely with our partners, civil society, and the international community to seek justice and accountability for the many victims.  We will continue to hold the PRC to account and call on the PRC to release those unjustly detained, account for those disappeared, and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Tibet, and across the PRC.

How is the ERLC involved?

Over the past several years, the ERLC and Southern Baptist messengers have advocated extensively for Uyghurs and raised awareness for the plight they face. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention “became the first Christian faith group to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide” when, in June 2021, “messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting passed a resolution” condemning “the actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur people.”

The ERLC remains resolved to “stand together with these people against the atrocities committed against them, to call upon the CCP to cease its program of genocide against the Uyghur people immediately, restore to them their full God-given rights, and put an end to their captivity and systematic persecution and abuse.” We will continue our work of advocating for the Uyghur people, “pray[ing] for [them] as they suffer under such persecution,” and praying for those who work to bring “the Uyghur people physical aid and the message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, so they can experience the freedom found only in Christ.” 

By / Feb 18

The gross human rights violations committed by the Chinese Communist Party and their authoritarian rule has been in the news lately because of the Winter Olympics. China’s citizens, and specifically minorities like the Uyghur people, have lived under oppression and persecution for years. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian leads the weekly Axios China newsletter and covers China’s role in the world. Below, she answers questions about the history of China’s influence, how they seek to gain power, and how we can learn more about this country.

Jason Thacker: As we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your path of researching and reporting on China?

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: I first went to China in 2004 as part of a study abroad program and really loved my time there. I was in Xiamen, which is a city on the coast, a tropical part of southern China. It was just beautiful, and I really loved the Chinese friends that I made. I also thought the Chinese language was beautiful and fascinating, and the culture and history were interesting. It really changed the course of my life. I never really looked back. After I graduated from undergrad, I went back. I was in China from 2008 to 2012. I lived in Beijing for one year, and in Nanjing for one year. I went back to Xiamen for two years, and then I got a master’s in East Asian studies and started on the path that I’ve been on for the past eight years, which is as a journalist based in D.C., but focusing on China. 

JT: Can you help us to understand a bit of the recent history in China and how they have become a global superpower under president Xi Jinping?

Bethany: So, that started in the 1980s and then rather more quickly in the 1990s, with China’s reform and opening up economically, culturally, and diplomatically to the rest of the world. After China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, you saw enormously quick economic development, 10-12% GDP growth, for a while it held at 18% GDP growth, and certainly economic growth comes with a lot more power in a lot of ways. But what we’ve really seen Xi Jinping do is skillfully locate all the areas where China wasn’t really taking advantage of the power it could have — in ways that it can use its economic strength and translate that into geopolitical power, diplomatic power, other kinds of strategic power. Jinping has really focused on that with his Belt and Road Initiative. It seems that he is trying to create a China-centric world order for the 21st century through bringing in countries bilaterally in their relationship with China and giving them loans and infrastructure projects and deals. But, there’s a lot of strings attached to that, namely supporting China’s goals in multilateral institutions, voting for what they want and giving them backing whenever desired. That’s one aspect. 

The diplomatic push has been really huge, but also we’ve seen a different kind of economic power, a kind that people are calling “economic coercion,” and that’s how China has weaponized access to its markets. For political reasons, in some ways, you could say it’s somewhat analogous to U.S. sanctions. However, the way that China uses its markets in this way is usually to support its own narrow geopolitical interests. So, hot-button issues like the genocide in Xinjiang or policies in Tibet or the way that it has crushed the democracy movement in Hong Kong or people who get too close to Taiwan, you see the Chinese government denying access, usually in a very opaque kind of way for those kinds of actions and speech. 

The Chinese government has also deployed that kind of power for pretty straightforward defense reasons. So, for example, a number of years ago, the South Korean government deployed a U.S. missile defense system called “THAAD” on South Korean soil, and this is mainly as part of their self-defense strategy against North Korea, but it also is right next to China. The Chinese government really did not like this and did not want South Korea to deploy it. So, they basically implemented a bunch of de facto kinds of economic measures against South Korea, including stopping Chinese tourists from going there, a big source of revenue in South Korea, prevented K-pop bands from performing in China or even streaming on Chinese music websites. There was sort of a boycott of Lotteria, which is a South Korean restaurant chain on whose land the THAAD system was deployed. The idea here is that Lotteria or other South Korean companies in the future would lobby their own governments not to have U.S. missile facilities.

What’s really interesting is the way that China acted during the coronavirus. I have seen these ways that the Chinese Communist Party has politicized a lot of its economic ties for these narrow authoritarian political interests. I’ve watched them for years doing that more and more. With coronavirus, we saw the Chinese government deploy this exact kind of power for the first time on an issue that literally affects every person in the world, and that was the discussion of the origins of the coronavirus. So, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, and almost immediately the Chinese government levied a bunch of tariffs on Australian imports into China and very dramatically affected their wine industry and a number of other industries there. That is the same kind of economic coercion.

JT: What are some of those industries that the Chinese are especially influential in? Obviously, technology is one of those, but what are some of the other industries that have global effects? 

Bethany: Well, one of the earliest examples of this is Hollywood. For example, in 1997, two major films were released that were sympathetic to the Tibetan people. One of them was Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt and one of them was Kundun, which was a Disney film about the life of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government, as a response, didn’t allow Disney’s Mulan to be shown in China. That was the punishment for Disney. Then, for the studio that had produced Seven Years in Tibet, all of their movies for years afterward were kept out of the Chinese market, even if they had nothing to do with China. And Hollywood really got that lesson. I don’t know of any other industry that was targeted so early, so dramatically, and so effectively, because 1997 was the last time that there was a major Hollywood production about Tibet, and there have been no big blockbuster films that present China in a negative light or across some kind of obvious red line. 

There’ve been numerous examples of self-censorship in Hollywood and that’s just gotten more obvious and more extreme, especially under Xi Jinping, and especially now, as the Chinese box office is the largest box office in the world. We’re seeing so many examples of that and even a proactive messaging that is pro-CCP.  For instance, we’re not going to get from Hollywood a movie like Hotel Rwanda for the Uyghurs. If that movie is made, it’s not going to be made by a major Hollywood studio because it wouldn’t pass CCP censors. 

Technology is a more current example. What’s happening now is not that China’s markets themselves are so lucrative, which they are, but the Chinese tech scene is actually very vibrant. Their STEM research and science and technology sector is really cutting edge, with the possibility of leading the world in artificial intelligence and quantum computing and some of these other emerging technologies. This is a whole other level of influence, and it’s an explicit policy by the Chinese government. This means that tech companies in the U.S. not only feel that they need to tap the market for revenue, but also that they need access. Maybe at some point they’re going to want to do partnerships or they’re going to need access to certain forms of technology to do what they’re doing. 

This is looming in our near future, and what we have seen over and over from the Chinese Communist Party is that any time they have that kind of leverage, they use it for political reasons. And it’s far beyond just censorship. I really want to move past that as the type of control and influence that we’re talking about. We’re talking about shaping behaviors, shaping global standards, shaping how these companies push their own government, what they push on their own governments, how to regulate them, and what they allow, and even shaping what’s considered acceptable for an American company to do or to be a part of. 

For example, the Chinese tech sector has become so influential they are trying to change government backing, trying to set standards by a U.N. standard-setting agency. The Chinese government is trying to set the global norms for issues that are in themselves harmless, but could give a big advantage to Chinese companies. So an interesting analogy here would be 3G. U.S. companies are the ones who set the standards for 3G, and that gave them a huge advantage in the 3G market around the world. So U.S. companies were like the largest telecommunications companies in the world, and it gave them an enormous amount of power which greatly contributed to American prosperity. The Chinese government and Chinese companies are trying to do that, for example, with 5G, with them being the ones that set these very technical standards that would set Huawei and ZTE and other companies up for decades of dominance, with lots of wealth flowing into the hands of Chinese elites. A difference is that the Chinese government would absolutely politicize that power and that excess in a way that the U.S. government never did.

JT: Can you give us a little context on China today about the state of surveillance?

Bethany: The Chinese government is building what you can call a modern 21st-century surveillance state. They implement real name registration, so it’s a lot harder to hide behind anonymous accounts. Local public security bureaus generally have a cyber section, so they monitor what people are saying online, in emails, and all kinds of web traffic in real time. They call in people to talk and arrest people based on what they say or do online, which, you know from a crime-fighting perspective is OK. But in China, when there’s a ton of political crimes, any kind of speech can potentially be criminal, or any kind of organizing action can be criminal. 

The assumption is that if you’re in China, anything that you’re saying or doing online is being monitored either by a human being or by some kind of algorithm that will send alerts to a real person. This is going to happen whether you’re chatting on WeChat, which is like WhatsApp, whether you’re talking on the phone, whether you’re sending emails, your bank transactions; basically anything can be monitored, and that’s enabled in part by increasingly sophisticated data analysis. Since there are not enough human beings to monitor all of that, there are also tons of surveillance cameras blanketing cities throughout China with facial recognition technology. And there is a growing ability to use data to analyze what those images are so that it doesn’t have to be monitored by people like security guards staring at TVs. There’s a sense now that it’s very difficult to hide anywhere, whether or not you should be able to hide or not. 

JT: You wrote a piece last fall at Axios about the pressure that China is exerting on corporate sponsors not to drop them and not to disassociate with the Winter Games, employing somewhat of a “loyalty test.” Can you speak a little bit more about this “loyalty test” that you wrote about last fall and how the Chinese Communist Party has influence over corporations around the world? 

Bethany: Let me first unpack the term privacy in America. In the West, we talk about privacy in a kind of lazy way. We conflate privacy vis-a-vis corporations and privacy in terms of the government. So, whether it’s Google or the U.S. government mining our data, we don’t really draw a distinction between them. It’s all just privacy issues. But, according to the Chinese government, they think about this differently. They have a dividing line there. The Chinese government has promised to improve consumer privacy, and they just passed the data privacy law. They’re trying to have a stronger legal environment around what Chinese companies can do, how they can get data, when they’re allowed to get data, what kinds of notifications they have to get to consumers to get their data, what they can do with that data, and they’re trying to create a stronger legal environment for that. That’s a real thing that’s happening that’s improving privacy. 

However, at the same time, they’re doing everything they can to completely erase all barriers between any data that exists and the Chinese government. They want as much data in real time as possible. So these are two very dramatically bifurcated paths on privacy regarding pressure that the Chinese government puts on corporate sponsors. For example, it was almost certainly the case that if one of the top-level corporate sponsors of the Beijing Olympics withdrew and said they were doing it because of human rights concerns, not only would they lose, but it’s very likely you would see the Chinese government take extensive retaliatory measures against them in the Chinese market. 

This happened to H&M last year when H&M said that they were no longer going to be sourcing their cotton from Xinjiang — the cotton industry in Xinjiang is very closely intertwined with Uyghur coerced labor. And when H&M said that, it resulted in a state-banned consumer boycott in China, and their H&M stores were removed from maps so people had a hard time getting there. 

JT: In your opinion, do you think these diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics or the rhetoric turn-around where some are calling these the “Genocide Olympics” is actually going to affect China negatively or exert any type of influence? 

Bethany: I think that every little bit helps, and I think that’s what’s going to happen here. For any history on the Olympics, and specifically Olympics that were boycotted, Beijing will be in there, and the reason that it was boycotted will be there forever. Because there has been this push toward diplomatic boycotts, many governments have had to consider whether or not they will participate. The simple act of considering means learning about what’s happening in Xinjiang. Governments have been forced to learn about what’s happening in Xinjiang and to make a decision that matters. It has greatly increased the prominence and the global discussion around what’s happening in Xinjiang, and that matters. 

Is it going to stop the genocide? No. But in the global efforts to push back against it, every little action builds up over time, and now we have a whole host of sanctions. Even just three years ago, just getting a sanction seemed impossible because the last time there was a human rights-based sanction on China was after Tiananmen, 30 years ago. Now, not only is it possible, but the EU created an entirely new human rights-sanction mechanism and used it on China. So it does matter, and I’m optimistic about the fact that there were diplomatic boycotts. 

JT: What are some resources that you might recommend for listeners if they want to learn more about the history of China or the progress that China has made? Or maybe some of the ways that China is interconnected in the global atmosphere? 

Bethany: Here are some resources I would recommend:

By / Feb 4

Editor’s Note: On Jan. 20, 2022, the ERLC sent a letter to the CEO of NBC Universal, Jeff Shell, calling for accurate coverage during the Beijing Olympics of the Chinese Communist Party’s gross and ongoing human rights violations, particularly the genocide of the Uyghur people. In light of the opening ceremonies and coverage that has already been problematic, we urge NBC and other media outlets to tell the truth about the CCP and to help inform the wider public of these ongoing travesties. The CCP cannot be allowed to use the world stage to showcase a false version of itself and to cover up a genocide.

Dear Mr. Shell,

As you are no doubt aware, there is an ongoing genocide taking place in China. Countless stories have been written about the plight of the Uyghur people who are being brutally oppressed by the Chinese government. Unfortunately, as we have seen most recently with the callous comments from Mr. Chamath Palihapitiya, too many Americans are either unaware of the severity of the situation or indifferent about the treatment of a religious minority across the globe. I am writing to you today because I believe you have a unique opportunity to provide real-time information that could help reveal the truth to millions of people across the globe.

To do that, I would respectfully appeal that NBC use its unique position as a broadcaster of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to highlight the ongoing human rights abuses and genocide of the Uyghur people happening in China and firmly refuse to broadcast Chinese propaganda.

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systematic war of persecution against the Uyghur people, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group in Xinjiang. Uyghurs are subjected to totalitarian tactics that include pervasive surveillance, forced detainment and placement into internment camps for “political reeducation,” forced labor, forced birth control, sterilization or abortion, rape, physical and psychological torture, and forced organ harvesting. Estimates vary, but experts believe that China has detained between one million and three million Uyghur people in these facilities.

These actions have been labeled as an ongoing genocide by both the Trump and Biden administrations, respectively. In June 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 14.5 million members and a network of over 50,000 cooperating churches and congregations, unanimously passed a resolution rightly calling what’s happening to the Uyghurs a genocide. The SBC was the first denomination to pass such a resolution.

We should all be clear-eyed about this global event. The Chinese government would love nothing more than to use these Winter Games as an opportunity to hide these human rights abuses and lie to the world about the treatment of the Uyghurs. The Chinese Communist Party cannot be allowed to use the world stage to showcase a false version of itself and to cover up a genocide.

NBC has a unique opportunity and responsibility to correctly reframe what viewers are seeing and provide context to the ongoing abuses in China that are happening outside of the Games. Because NBC has its own cameras and crew, you alone are able to showcase protests that might be happening, cut away from Chinese propaganda that is being shown, and provide com- mentary that contextualizes and accurately reports on what viewers are seeing. In the moments that cannot be appropriately shown to viewers, NBC should broadcast documented reports of China’s abuses.

This will be especially important in the opening and closing ceremonies, where China will likely attempt to portray itself as a hospitable nation to all and inappropriately highlight the cultures of ethnic and religious minorities. It is in these moments that NBC must be prepared with the truth and be ready to make a bold stand for human rights.

Mr. Shell, you understand the importance of this global event. Millions of viewers will be tuned in to see world-class athletes compete against one another with the hope of earning a medal for their country. But, in the backdrop of these Games, is an ongoing atrocity the host government would rather be ignored. Resist those efforts. NBC should be on the side of truth and not allow itself to become the international propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party.

Respectfully,

Brent Leatherwood
Acting President
Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission               

Further resources:

By / Feb 2

Where is Peng Shuai? Perhaps you have seen the social media posts asking this question. But, first, unless you are a hardcore tennis fan, you might need some clarity on about Peng Shuai. She is a Chinese professional tennis player with outstanding accomplishments in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). She rose to world number 14 in singles (2011) and became world number 1 in doubles in 2014. Shuai became the first Chinese tennis player ever ranked world number 1 in doubles or singles and has won 25 titles on the WTA tour in singles and doubles.

What happened to Peng Shuai?

In a lengthy November post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, 35-year-old Shuai alleged she was raped by one of China’s senior political leaders, former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. Her post almost immediately disappeared from Weibo, and then she suddenly disappeared from public view as well. Since that time, the Chinese government has censored any mention of Shuai or her accusation against Zhang Gaoli.

Concern about her well-being increased as friends and colleagues could not directly contact Shuai. The #WhereIsPengShuai hashtag took off on social media, and leaders in the tennis world began to voice concern. One of the loudest voices expressing concern is WTA chairman Steve Simon. A few weeks after Shuai’s disappearance, Simon received an email, which was also shared on American social media by Chinese-affiliated outlets, purportedly from Shuai, that said: “everything is fine.” She just did not want to be “bothered” right now. 

The email was almost universally mocked as fabricated or orchestrated by the Chinese government. Simon stated that the email “only increased his concerns.” A short time later, leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) participated in a video call with Shuai and stated she appeared safe and well. Many were outraged by the IOC’s willingness to participate in a video call that was little more than propaganda on behalf of the Chinese government by IOC officials wanting to avoid a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. After pressure, the IOC now says it cannot provide any assurances about Shuai’s well-being. 

Since that time, Chinese state-affiliated media outlets have shown pictures of Shuai out eating dinner and as a celebrity at a couple of sporting events. She recently told a Chinese state-friendly Singaporean newspaper that she had been misunderstood, she had not been sexually assaulted, and she is free to move around as she wished. 

Of course, none of these videos, pictures, or statements offer any proof that Shuai can move and speak without coercion or censorship. China’s authoritarian government has a long history of disappearing people, and threatening them and their families, until they coerce a retraction of any unfavorable comments toward the Communist Party leadership.

The shame of looking away

Sadly, it seems the financial benefit of looking the other way at China’s human rights atrocities has proven too strong a temptation for many businesses, including sports leagues and entertainment companies. For example, the Australian Open tennis tournament, run by Tennis Australia, at one time decided to turn away all spectators wearing any clothing that asks, “Where is Peng Shuai?” Their actions were an apparent capitulation to the Chinese regime and the Chinese investors in the tournament. Thankfully, on Jan. 25, after public pressure, Tennis Australia reversed its policy.

Recently, Chamath Palihapitiya, a billionaire venture capitalist and part-owner of the Golden State Warriors, said out loud what is a reality for too many in positions of power and influence. He said in an interview, when the genocide of the Uyghurs in China was mentioned, “Let’s be honest, nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs . . . .  I’m telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things that I care about, it is below my line.”

The danger in the Shuai situation is that the rest of the world just moves on and forgets about her condition over time. However, Simon has been one heroic figure who chosen to defend human rights over financial interests in this situation. He helped move a portion of the WTA season into China to take advantage of a lucrative emerging Chinese market. In 2018, the WTA signed a 10-year deal to move the WTA Finals to Shenzhen, China, with a guaranteed 14 million dollars in prize money. 

Nevertheless, Simon has put the well-being of Shuai over financial interests from the beginning of this saga. Simon said, “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source,” and, “Her allegation must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.” He followed his words with actions by suspending all WTA events in China. The result of the WTA actions could be an estimated 1 billion dollar loss of revenue. 

Simon is unfazed, asserting, “The WTA will do everything possible to protect its players.” However, he also urges, “As we do so, I hope leaders around the world will continue to speak out so justice can be done for Peng, and all women, no matter the financial ramifications.” While Simon’s courage and clarity in facing down China’s authoritarian regime has been heartening, the fact that so few have joined him is disheartening. 

A Christian’s responsibility

For those of us who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, our voices should be the loudest on behalf of those persecuted and marginalized. We are to care about the lives of God’s image-bearers from conception until natural death. The writer of Proverbs commands, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9). 

Toward the end of the post where she made allegations of ongoing sexual abuse, Shuai asked a question that many persecuted, victimized, and dehumanized people have asked, “I thought, am I still a human?” May followers of Christ answer her question with a resounding, yes, by the way we speak up for her life and liberty. Tennis is a game; human rights are not. 

It has been right to ask, “Where is Peng Shuai?” But we must also ask, “Where are we?” Where are we when the opportunity comes to speak and act on behalf of the persecuted, suffering, and vulnerable? Let us be those who hear and heed the words of the Lord Almighty: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” (Zech. 7:9).

By / Dec 17

Human dignity and the basic rights inherent to every individual are precious and should be protected. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, this is far from the case — and in egregious ways. While there were encouraging events at the end of this year in the United States, citizens of other countries were subjected to persecution, assault, and death. Below are 10 significant human rights events around the world that you should be aware of. 

United States: New ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom

This week, the Senate confirmed Rashad Hussain to the post of ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom in a vote of 85-5. Hussain garnered support from a wide range of religious liberty advocates including the Religious Freedom Institute, Open Doors, and past members of United States Commission on International Religious Freedom including former chairs, Katrina Lantos-Swett and Robert George, as well as former Ambassador, Sam Brownback. Hussain makes history as the first Muslim nominated and confirmed to the position. He fills a vacancy at a crucial time as religious rights are threatened around the globe. 

Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the ERLC, noted the important role that his position plays for this fundamental right: “I want to congratulate Mr. Hussain on his confirmation to this important and crucial role for America’s diplomatic efforts. We are praying for his success and we are eager to work with him. Religious freedom is under assault around the globe and his position is vital to confronting those who would undermine this fundamental right.”

One of the early tests for Hussain will be confronting China on the atrocities being carried out against the Uyghur people. Just this week, the U.S. House and Senate voted to pass a bill that would ban all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang unless the U.S. government determines that the products were not made with forced labor. President Biden has signaled that he will sign the bill. “We have been clear,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “that we share Congress’ view that action must be taken to hold the [People’s Republic of China] accountable for its human rights abuses and to address forced labor in Xinjiang.”  

Unfortunately, the genocidal treatment of religious minorities in China is but one of the major violations of human rights to occur in 2021. 

Myanmar: Military coup results in the deaths of hundreds of citizens

In February, the Myanmar military took control of the country and declared a year-long state of emergency following a general election that Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide. The military, which backed the opposition, claimed election fraud, though the election commission found no evidence to support that accusation. When civilians protested, the military responded by imposing a brutal crackdown that killed hundreds of people

Belarus: Government crackdown on peaceful protests

Peaceful protests that followed a contested election in August were met by a harsh response by ​​ government. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in September she continued to be alarmed by “persistent allegations” of “widespread and systematic torture” of protesters in the European nation. According to Human Rights Watch, protestors who were detained by ​the government described “beatings, prolonged stress positions, electric shocks, and in at least one case, rape. Some had serious injuries, including broken bones, skin wounds, electrical burns, or mild traumatic brain injuries.”

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Attacks on civilians by armed groups and government forces 

An alarming number of human rights abuses have been carried out against civilians this year by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, says UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In the two most affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, UNHCR and its partners recorded more than 1,200 civilian deaths and 1,100 rapes, constituting a total of 25,000 human rights abuses. In total, more than a million Congolese have been internally displaced in the eastern part of the country. 

Afghanistan: Taliban takeover results in large number of civilian deaths

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the Taliban were responsible for 45% of attacks that caused civilian deaths and injuries in the first nine months of 2020. Since the takeover by ​​the Taliban earlier this year, abductions and targeted killings of politicians, government employees, and other civilians have ​increased significantly. 

Ethiopia: Underage girls sexually assaulted to terrorize ethnic minorities

Widespread sexual and gender-based violence in northern Ethiopia “constitute some of the most egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law” say human rights experts. From November 2020 through June of this year, some 2,204 survivors reported sexual violence to health facilities across the Tigray region. From 50 to 90% of the reported victims have been underage girls. “They appear to have been used as part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize, degrade and humiliate the victims and the ethnic minority group that they belong to with acquiescence of the State and non-State actors’ parties to the conflict,” said experts appointed by the UN.

Mexico: Over 95,000 registered as disappeared

More than 95,000 people have been officially registered as disappeared in Mexico, according to a UN committee. That number includes an increasing number of women and children, who are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. The committee notes there are “scenarios of collusion between State agents and organised crime,” with some enforced disappearances “committed directly by State agents.”  

Burundi: Political opposition leads to beatings, arrest, torture, and killings

The people of Burundi continue to endure serious human rights violations including possible crimes against humanity, report UN-appointed independent investigators. President Evariste Ndayishimiye had pledged to address the situation in the country after years of violent repression. But according to Human Rights Watch, killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, beatings, extortion, and intimidation persisted against people perceived to be against the ruling party.

Somalia: Sexual violence against women increased by 80%

There has been an 80% increase in sexual violence in Somalia, according to two reports this year by the United Nations. The reports (the Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and the Report of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.) documented that in 2020, 400 civilians, primarily girls, were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence. More than 100 cases of sexual violence against girls were verified by the UN in the first quarter of 2021. Perpetrators often exploited the vulnerability of displaced girls, targeting them when they left camps to perform domestic chores, the reports noted. 

North Korea: Citizens executed for watching K-pop

The Transitional Justice Working Group says North Korea has executed some of its citizens for watching videos of K-pop music (i.e., Korean pop music from South Korea). Kim Jong Un had previously made it illegal to possess or distribute entertainment from South Korea, with violations punishable by death. Most of the executions occurred between 2012 and 2014, but the number of unreported killings is likely to be higher. News from inside North Korea often comes to the West years later, so similar incidents are believed to ​​have occurred in 2021.

By / Mar 26

This week, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada announced multilateral sanctions against Chinese government officials for their manifold human rights violations against Uyghur muslims. The sanctions were imposed against two Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders uniquely responsible for these atrocities: Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program.

“Wang Junzheng and Chen Mingguo are being designated pursuant to Executive Order 13818 in connection with the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) appalling abuses in Xinjiang,” read the announcement of sanctions from the U.S. Department of State. The statement continued, “Wang is being designated for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the XPCC. Chen is being designated for being a foreign person who is a leader or an official of the XPSB, which has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse related to Chen’s tenure.”

This is a continuation of United States’ policy recognizing the atrocities against Uyghur muslims as a genocide. However, it is of special interest that this is the first time since the Tiananmen Square massacre the U.K. has imposed sanctions against the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP is waging a systematic campaign of persecution against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The Chinese government has detained over a million Uyghur muslims in internment camps, subjected them to forced labor. Even now, the CCP continues to forcibly separate families and subject women to forced sterilization.

Sanctions are a tool governments can use to respond to foreign policy challenges. Many governments and multilateral bodies use economic sanctions to attempt to alter the behavior of another nation. 

The sanctions from the U.S. were applied under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program, which authorizes the executive branch to impose visa bans and block sanctions against any foreign person or entity “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms.” 

The E.U., the U.K., and Canada all have their own version of Global Magnitsky sanctions. These sanctions not only signal an international commitment to stand up for human rights, but also cause material harm and disincentive for China’s current actions. 

Additionally, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand released a joint statement condemning China’s horrific acts of violence and showing solidarity with the international community in punishing those responsible. This partnership of countries is called the “Five Eyes,” and they serve together as an intelligence alliance. The joint statement reads, in part: “The evidence, including from the Chinese Government’s own documents, satellite imagery, and eyewitness testimony is overwhelming. China’s extensive program of repression includes severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labour, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilisations, and the concerted destruction of Uyghur heritage.”

The new sanctions and statements from Western government leaders are noteworthy steps in the right direction as they place needed pressure on the Chinese government for their persecution of Uyghurs. 

The U.S. should continue prioritizing religious freedom abroad. The ERLC will continue to advance human rights rooted in the image of God and religious freedom for persecuted people in China, and encourage our government officials to hold China accountable to recognize human dignity and the sanctity of human life.

To learn more see these ERLC resources