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 / May 4

On May 1, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2023 annual report. As the report mentions, USCIRF was created as a result of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). USCIRF “is an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisory body, separate from the U.S. Department of State, that monitors religious freedom abroad and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress.”

The recommendations in USCIRF’s report are based “on its statutory mandate and the standards in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents.” The 98-page report assesses religious freedom violations and progress during calendar year 2022 in 28 countries and makes independent recommendations for U.S. policy for both the Biden administration and for Congress.

The report’s primary focus is on two groups of countries: 

  • Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs): The first group includes those countries that USCIRF recommends the State Department should designate as CPCs. IRFA defines CPCs as countries where the government engages in or tolerates “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom, such as torture or prolonged detention without trial. 
  • Special Watch List (SWL): The second group are countries that USCIRF recommends the State Department should place on its SWL. The SWL is for countries where the government engages in or tolerates “severe” violations of religious freedom that are ongoing and egregious. 

In addition to these groups, the report also includes USCIRF’s recommendations of violent nonstate actors for designation by the State Department as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs).

Country recommendations

CPCs: In this year’s report, USCIRF recommends 17 countries to the State Department for designation as CPCs. Ten countries were previously designated as CPCs: Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Five other countries are also recommended to be added: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam.

SWL: The report also recommends 11 countries be included on the SWL. Two countries—Algeria and the Central African Republic (CAR)—had previously been included on the list. The nine other countries recommended for inclusion are Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

EPCs: Finally, seven nonstate actors are recommended to be designated as EPCs: al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Houthis, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP, also referred to as ISIS-West Africa), and Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM).

The report also highlights key USCIRF recommendations that the U.S. government has implemented from USCIRF’s 2022 Annual Report—including adding CAR to the State Department’s SWL, imposing targeted sanctions on religious freedom violators, and recognizing the Burmese military’s atrocities against Rohingya Muslims as genocide and crimes against humanity.

The ERLC and international religious freedom 

The ERLC is deeply committed to advocating for religious freedom around the world. In 2019, we released a short film titled “Humanity Denied: Religious Freedom in North Korea.” The film features defectors from North Korea as well as church leaders and human rights activists in South Korea. 

China is country that has increased its persecution of Christians, Uyghur Muslims, and other ethnic and religious minorities. This is extremely concerning, and the ERLC has been calling on the U.S. government to hold China accountable for their religious freedom abuses and to counter China morally. Further, the Southern Baptist Convention was the first denomination to call what’s happening in China a genocide.

In addition to country-specific advocacy, the ERLC has worked on initiatives to fight against blasphemy laws and the rise of anti-Semitism. We are dedicated to advocating for the vulnerable and oppressed around the world and to championing the rights of our persecuted brothers and sisters.

How you can pray

ERLC is grateful for the work of the USCIRF and encourages all Christians to support the work of this advisory body. We can also use this report, as we do resources from the Joshua Project and Operation World, as a prayer guide for the nations and for persecuted Christians around the globe. Here are four ways, recommended by Casey B. Hough, that Christians can use USCIRF’s annual report in daily prayer for the nations:

  1. We can pray for the endurance and faithfulness of Christians who live in the countries listed in the report.
  1. We can pray for those who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ because of the difficulties that missionaries encounter with the government.
  1. We can pray with gratefulness to God for the religious freedom that he has granted us at this time in history.
  1. Finally, we can pray for God to use the efforts of USCIRF and other international organizations to quell the religious freedom violations that exist around the world so that the gospel might advance without hindrance (Col. 4:3).
By / Oct 21

Over ​​the past few weeks there have been a number of international incidents that are worthy of our attention and prayer. Here are three you should know about from Iran, Ethiopia, and China.

What’s going on in Iran?

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has had a law requiring all women—regardless of nationality or religious belief—to wear hijabs that cover the head and neck while concealing the hair. The Gashte Ershad (guidance patrols) are the “morality police” tasked with enforcing this and other dress codes, as well as modest behavior. The patrols are usually composed of men and stationed in vans in public areas. The patrols generally target women, who are taken to a ​​police station, correctional facility, or re-education center, where they are taught to dress “appropriately.” 

Earlier this month, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by a patrol in the capital city of Tehran and allegedly beaten while inside a morality police van. She was taken to the hospital where she remained in a coma before dying three days later. 

Amini’s death sparked outrage and protest throughout the country. Women in the country have posted videos of themselves setting fire to their headscarves and cutting their hair in public to chants of “Woman, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator”—a reference to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

School children are protesting their leaders on an unprecedented scale that may prove difficult to contain, notes CNN. In attempting to put down the protest, an estimated 201 people—including 23 children—have been killed by Iranian authorities. The United Nation’s children agency UNICEF has also called for the protection of children and adolescents amid Iran’s protests. 

How to pray for this situation: Pray that God will protect the children and women of Iran, that the people will obtain freedom and protection for basic human rights, and that the church in Iran will be free from persecution. 

What’s going on in Ethiopia 

For the past year, the Ethiopian government and a regional military group have been engaged in a struggle for power and control over Tigray, the northern region of Ethiopia. Global leaders have so far hesitated to call it a genocide, referring to it as a civil war, or the Tigray War. But the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian and Eritrian governments make it clear the conflict is turning into a genocide. 

United Nations-backed investigators say all sides, including the Tigray forces, have committed abuses, but that the Ethiopian government is using “starvation of civilians” as a weapon of war. Tigray has been under a blockade for 17 months, and an estimated one million people are at risk of starvation. Because they are cut off from medical care, women are also dying during pregnancy or within 42 days of giving birth at five times the rate before the war. Children under 5 are dying at twice the pre-war rate, often because of easily preventable reasons. 

Altogether, an estimated half a million people have already died in the conflict. Tigray is “one of the worst manmade humanitarian crises in the world,” says the European Union foreign policy chief.

How to pray for this situation: Pray that the upcoming peace talks will bring an end to the conflict, that the genocide will end, and that the people of Ethiopia will find healing and restoration.

What’s going on in China? 

The 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party began this week in Beijing. The 2,296 delegates will represent the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 96.7 million members in reelecting the current leader, Xi Jinping.  

The 69-year-old Xi was due to step down in 2023, but in 2018 he further consolidated power by having his party change the constitution to remove the limitation that no Chinese president shall serve more than two consecutive terms.

Xi Jinping was elected as the president of the People’s Republic of China in 2013. In addition to this role as president, Xi also serves as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (putting him in control of the country’s political party) and chairman of the Central Military Commission (which makes him the commander-in-chief of China’s military forces). He also is head of so many other smaller decision-making bodies that he’s been called the “Chairman of Everything.”

After his first four years in office, the Communist Party voted unanimously to incorporate “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” into the Chinese constitution, an honor previously reserved for Mao Zedong and his successor, Deng Xiaoping. This change enshrined Xi’s political philosophy into the country’s supreme law and made any challenge to him a direct threat to Communist Party rule. As the BBC has noted, schoolchildren, college students, and staff at state factories are required to study this political ideology.

The reelection of Xi means the continuation of human rights abuse that have been the hallmark of his presidency. Under his rule, more than a million Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic group living in Central and East Asia, have been detained in a network of concentration camps. The atrocities against them include forced abortions, rape, sexual abuse, sterilization, internment in concentration camps, organ harvesting, human trafficking, scientific experimentation, the sale of human hair forcibly taken from those in concentration camps, family separation, forced reeducation of children, forced labor, and torture.

In 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the “Resolution 8: On The Uyghur Genocide,” becoming the first major denomination or convention of churches to speak up on behalf of Uyghurs and use the label “genocide” for Xi’s crimes against humanity. 

How to pray for this situation: ​​Pray for the Uyghurs, that they will find earthly protection and an end to the persecution, and that they will obtain ultimate salvation by putting their faith in Christ. 

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 / Aug 4

The International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit is one of the many in-person events that was  welcomed back post-pandemic to Washington, D.C., for its annual meeting at the end of June. With close to 70% of the world’s population living in countries with religious restrictions, it is more important than ever to fortify our response to these troubling numbers. The IRF summit aims to gain political and grassroots support for religious freedom worldwide. Each year the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department releases a report on the status of religious freedom in the world. The conversations that happen at the summit often reflect the reports. 

During the meeting, coalitions were strengthened, new relationships were made, and powerful testimonies were shared. While we often read the facts surrounding religious persecution and feel a sense of compassion, to see the faces of those who have survived is uniquely moving. I had the privilege of attending the IRF conference and hearing directly from a few of these survivors. 

The story of Shi Minglei 

I have never faced persecution for my faith or had to choose between renouncing my faith or living. The government does not send agents to my home to stop me from reading the Bible. My bank account has not been seized because of my faith. But there are individuals in this world who experience this reality daily. Shi Minglei is one of those people. Minglei and her husband, Cheng Yuan, are from China. Yuan is a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and was arrested for his decry of human rights violations by the CCP. After his arrest, his wife and daughter were targeted by secret police officers sent by the government. They were tracked, interrogated, and intimidated by agents. The ERLC has joined coalitions in condemning the treatment of Uyghurs and other religious minorities by the CCP. From condemning the Chinese Government at the U.N. Human Rights Council to advocating for the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the ERLC has been active in trying to end religious persecution in China. 

The CCP was relentless in their efforts to keep Minglei quiet. An agent warned her, “anywhere you go, anyone you meet, anyone you call, you have to get my permission for all of them, or else we’ll change enforcement measures on you!” Essentially, if she spoke out on the brutal treatment she had received, then she would be arrested or even killed. The mental toll that Minglei and her daughter went through cannot be overstated. Every day they lived with the lurking fear that someone was watching them. Agents could barge into their door at any moment and drag them away. While the fear ravaged their life for months on end, they were able to find peace in the only One who can provide it when a member of Minglei’s church rallied around them and offered to pray with them (Phil. 4:6-13). It was at that moment that her heart finally found rest. 

“I cried out, and my heart, which had been ruled by the fear created by tyranny, was finally released. That night, I was no longer afraid. Every night, my little girl and I prayed and slept in peace. In the mornings, we took the bus to the subway together, and on the way we sang hymns together and praised God out loud. I began to learn how to live with my fears and how to walk through this trying time.”

Minglei was in a situation where everything seemed to be working against her. The institutions she was surrounded by oppressed her. Her beliefs were ridiculed. Life would have been much easier if she would have remained silent and quietly given up her resistance. Yet, thankfully that is not how the story ends. Minglei and her daughter were able to escape and are now safe within the United States. Hearing her speak in person with her daughter a few feet away in the audience was an experience that I will never forget. Minglei writes in an article about her experience that, “​​even though I don’t know what tomorrow holds, I do know who is in charge of tomorrow.”  May we also live with that same reminder in our own lives. 

Freedom of religion is not a worldwide standard. In fact, it is almost an exception. The United States has a unique platform in the world that can be used to promote freedom of religion.

The IRF conference is one of the many ways governments and civil society can come together to promote religious freedom so that everyone can worship without fear. And while conferences like these are necessary to build worldwide support, the fight for religious freedom does not stop with those in Washington. We all have a role to play. 

One of the most important ways to get involved is through prayer. Pray for God to open the heart of government leaders who are oppressing their own people. Pray for the individuals who are living in the reality of religious persecution and that God would grant them strength. Lastly, pray that God will give us a spirit of hospitality to welcome those escaping persecution. 

Another practical way to get involved is to further read on religious freedom. The ERLC has an entire section dedicated to resources on this issue. A few of my personal recommendations listed below. 

The work toward religious freedom for all remains a cornerstone of Baptist tradition. The door to sharing the gospel can often be opened when others are free to practice their own faith. Stories like Shi Minglei should remind us of how blessed we are to have the freedoms we do in the United States. While we know that earthly governments cannot stop the gospel, it is in the interest of human flourishing to protect that right so that individuals are free to live according to their deeply held beliefs.  The right to believe, practice, and live according to one’s own religious faith is a God-given, fundamental human right on which other basic rights often rise and fall. It is an essential ingredient in a functioning society. Because of that, the ERLC will continue to advocate for religious freedom for all people of all faiths around the world.

By / Jun 10

The Uyghur people and Hong Kong political dissenters face daily persecution at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Human rights advocates and Western governments have rightly criticized the Chinese government for targeting the predominantly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group for illegitimate detention and abusive “pacification” under the guise of national security. In Hong Kong, authorities have arrested dozens of pro-democracy leaders and restricted freedoms of speech and the press. While circumstances are constantly changing, one thing is certain: the United States should swiftly offer refuge to those fleeing persecution.

For decades, Southern Baptists have ministered “care, compassion, and the gospel to refugees who come to the United States” and encouraged our churches and families “to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at his throne (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9–12; Psalms 68:5; James 1:27; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 19: 33–34).” We mourn the plight of refugees and affirm that “Christian love should be extended to them as special objects of God’s mercy in a world that has displaced them from their homelands.”

The ERLC will continue the admirable Southern Baptist legacy of advocating for the dignity of vulnerable people around the globe. Central to the Church’s mission is the biblical mandate to pursue justice for all people, “speak[ing] up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Prov. 31:8) To truly “walk in the way of Christ,” the Church is called to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” and practice God’s love for the immigrant, refugee, and foreigner (Eph. 5:1-2, Prov. 31:9).

What kind of persecution do Uyghurs and Hong Kongers face?

The U.S. government, under both the Trump and Biden administrations, have officially determined that the CCP is committing genocide in Xinjiang, China, against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minority groups. Since 2017, the CCP has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghurs through totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. China has built more than 1,000 internment camps to detain between 1 and 3 million Uyghurs for “reeducation” purposes. Physical and psychological abuse such as rape, torture, malnourishment, and forced organ harvesting is rampant throughout these camps. Recently, leaked photos and files have further implicated senior Chinese officials who issued shoot-to-kill directives, trained police to exercise violent detainment measures, and ordered draconian prison sentences for thousands of Uyghurs on arbitrary charges of terrorism.

In Hong Kong, China has punished dissent and violently suppressed unrest by wielding the same “security” practices used in mainland China under the National Security Law. This law endangers political dissenters and people of faith in Hong Kong, placing them at risk of life prison sentences or extradition to the mainland.

What is Priority 2 refugee status?

The United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.” Refugees must have “a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” The U.S. refugee program categorizes eligible refugees in one of three priority groups. Priority 2 (P-2) refugee status is granted to “groups of special humanitarian concern,” which are often specific ethnic, religious, or national people groups vulnerable to persecution.

Offering P-2 refugee status provides a lifeline to vulnerable Uyghur Muslims and Hong Kong dissenters. This status would grant Uyghurs and Hong Kongers direct access to the U.S. refugee system, expediting their ability to apply for asylum or long-term residency. P-2 refugees are not required to obtain referrals from the UNHCR or an embassy, which helps accelerate the process for Uyghurs and Hong Kongers who must quickly flee a country where they face immediate threats of genocide and persecution.

Priority 2 refugee status is an increasingly important tool in the United States’ arsenal as the refugee resettlement program faces unprecedented backlogs. Without priority status, those Uyghurs and Hong Kongers who are able to escape would be forced to wait years in perilous circumstances to eventually be processed and find safety in the United States.

How is the ERLC involved?

A bipartisan coalition of senators and representatives are currently working to finalize the Bipartisan Innovation Act. The bill is a multibillion dollar economic competitiveness package meant to bolster American technology and innovation and keep pace with China. Versions of this bill passed the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives with significant differences, and now, members of both parties from both chambers—known as conferees—are negotiating to reconcile a final package. Priority 2 refugee status for Uyghurs and Hong Kongers was included in the House-passed version of this legislation but was previously excluded from the Senate-passed version. The ERLC sent a letter to Congressional leadership and conferees advocating for the inclusion of P-2 status for Uyghurs and Hong Kongers to be included in the final bill.

If the United States wants to be serious in its efforts to counter China through this package, legislators must prioritize efforts to counter China morally. Providing refuge to these vulnerable people would send a clear message to Beijing that the United States opposes the CCP’s attempts to oppress religious and ethnic minorities and silence its dissenters by denying them fundamental human rights. By offering P-2 refugee status to Uyghurs and Hong Kongers fleeing persecution, America can demonstrate that this country is a safe haven for the persecuted and a vanguard against nations that abuse human rights and violate religious liberties.

ERLC Intern Daniel Hostetter contributed to this article.

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 / Jan 10

On July 15, 2020, Griffin Gulledge, the pastor of Madison Baptist Church in Madison, Georgia, had a tweet go viral. He posted a video on Twitter showing Uyghurs, a minority people group in China, kneeling in rows after being escorted off of trains. All of their heads were shaved. And all of them were headed to forced labor camps. Gulledge then went on to tweet, “China is committing one of the grossest acts of human rights violations in modern history, and we aren’t saying a word because it financially benefits most of the rest of the world.” In addition, he shared reports from various news outlets. 

Many of those who follow Gulledge were made aware of this atrocity for the first time, and it has become an advocacy priority for the Southern Baptist Convention, emphasizing the God-given dignity of every individual and the importance of religious liberty. Gulledge answers questions below about his actions on behalf of the Uyghurs and his advice to the local church. 

Elizabeth Bristow: You were recently awarded the ERLC’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award for drafting a resolution for the Southern Baptist Convention that advocated on behalf of Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim and Turkic-speaking ethnic group who are the targets of a genocidal campaign by the Chinese government. What led you to act on behalf of this vulnerable and oppressed people group?

Griffin Gulledge: Ultimately, what led me to act on their behalf is two things: the Word of God and awareness. It’s an old trope that every pastor should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Well, perhaps the application goes deeper than just preaching, but also extends to how we live our lives.

I was taught from Scripture that every person is created in the image of God and endowed with a fundamental dignity by their Creator. As I began to read in The New York Times, among other outlets, about the plight of the Uyghurs, it became abundantly clear I could not be silent. When you read about the systematic imprisonment, surveillance, reeducation, family separation, rape, organ and hair harvesting, and various other abuses of this people by the Chinese government, you cannot remain silent. I could not remain silent. So I decided to use whatever platform or voice I had to speak and tell others as I had been told.

EB: The resolution you drafted, “Resolution 8: On The Uyghur Genocide,”was resoundingly adopted by the messengers at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Why is this significant, and what implications does it have for the future of the SBC?

GG: It’s significant for several reasons. First, it’s significant because it makes the SBC the first major denomination, or in our case convention of churches, to speak up on behalf of Uyghurs and call this genocide. 

Second, it reminds our people that we have an obligation to speak up in the face of abuse and oppression. The Uyghurs are not the only people group facing such horrors, but if we can see it clearly with them, perhaps we can see it clearly in our own midst. 

Third, it gives us a track record for speaking up on genocide. This is not the first time, and will not be the last, the SBC has spoken up on issues of human dignity. Moral credibility and a consistent public witness requires us to speak up, and here we have. We have a clear precedent to not be silent in the face of grave injustice. 

A final implication is this: Southern Baptists are unified around the things that matter most. Our mission. Our gospel. Our Bible. Loving our neighbors. Some people came to Nashville to fight one another, and ended up locking arms and fighting for those far more in need of our effort, energy, and prayers. I hope we will be marked by this in days ahead.

EB: Your resolution made the Southern Baptist Convention the first denomination to condemn the CCP for the genocide of the Uyghur people. Why is this significant?

GG: It’s never a bad thing to be the first to do what is right. Moral action should never be dependent on a finger to the wind or the ‘mood of the room’. More than that, what we have done as the largest denomination by speaking up first is create what I call a permission structure. Now we have created a pathway for others to join us, others to speak up, others to engage. The IMB and Send Relief can target this people group with love and care. Other parachurch agencies can justify allocating money and resources to them because Southern Baptists Care. And on and on that goes. I hope we are the first domino.

EB: You mentioned in a Baptist Press interview that you didn’t do anything special to gain this religious liberty award, but did what any Baptist can do. When it comes to issues of global persecution and human rights crises like what we’re witnessing in China, what can people in the local church do to make a difference? 

GG: When I say I didn’t do anything special, I don’t mean that what I have done or said is unimportant. What I mean is that speaking up loudly in the face of moral atrocities should be standard for Southern Baptists. I hope this resolution is a starting line for our advocacy, not a finish line.

Call your senators and representatives. Call for preferred refugee status for Uyghurs. It takes no time at all. Commend them when they do it, no matter if you voted for them or not. 

Speak up. Be a voice for awareness. Read about their plight. Share it online and with your friends and loved ones. Caring consistently well set us apart from the slacktivism of “one post on twitter, then back to my real cares” that marks our day and age.

Pray for Uyghurs. Pray for their salvation, and pray for their protection.

Finally, do your homework. Are there Uyghurs near you? Are there refugees you can help? Can you collect goods? Can you volunteer? I heard of churches in California doing ministry to Uyghurs just the other day. We can help, but we can’t do it with our head in the stand. Speak up. Look up. Stand up. Mobilize for the good of your neighbor and the spread of the gospel.

EB: Why should Christians care about religious liberty and global religious persecution? Is it wrong to care that Muslims be protected? 

GG: Religious freedom is the open door for global evangelization. If you want the gospel to advance, you cannot support silencing other religions via tyranny. Their freedom to practice their religion gives us the freedom to persuade them that Christ is better in every way: more worthy of their love and affection, devotion and worship. We don’t influence by the sword, but through the sword of the Spirit: the Word of God. Religious freedom is a necessity to engage in that kind of ministry.

EB: How would you encourage a pastor to help stir up the hearts of his flock to care for the vulnerable? 

GG: Preach Christ. You were far off. You were lost. You were weak. Ezekiel 16:6 says, “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’”

That’s us. That’s all of us, spiritually. And it is some of us, physically. When we understand and believe the gospel, indifference to suffering is driven out. Preach Christ, show how he loves the needy, and call people to respond.

EB: How can Christians learn more about these issues, and how can we pray? 

GG: There are countless great resources online from the ERLC, the national media, and more. Uyghur news is available if you will only seek it. There is a huge amount of publicly available information. It starts with you. Seek it out. Read for yourself. 

Pray for Uyghurs who are Christians — that as they suffer, they will have a powerful witness among Uyghurs who are lost. Pray for God to protect the Uyghurs and end their suffering. Pray for Uyghur children whose lives are being torn apart. Pray for Communist China to lose its power over them. Pray for God to convert the tormenters. Pray for Uyghurs to know Christ and pray for missionaries who take the gospel to them. Above all, don’t just pray once. Pray, pray, and pray again for the Uyghurs.

By / Jan 3

For the past four years, the world has watched one alarming report of Uyghur genocide after another trickle out from Xinjiang, China’s westernmost territory. On Oct. 5, 2021, however, a former Chinese prison guard shared particularly horrifying accounts of the torture Uyghurs endure in Xinjiang “reeducation” camps: 

“Kick them, beat them (until they’re) bruised and swollen. Until they kneel on the floor crying . . . Everyone uses different methods. Some even use a wrecking bar, or iron chains with locks . . . Police would step on the suspect’s face and tell him to confess.”

These revelations, reported by CNN, also included accounts of extreme torture, including sexual abuse and even gang rapes.1https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/04/china/xinjiang-detective-torture-intl-hnk-dst/index.html They are, sadly, part of a broader plan.

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against the Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim and Turkic-speaking ethnic group. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, 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, and forced birth control. 

The CCP’s oppression of the Uyghur people does not stop there. Beginning in 2018, reports began to emerge chronicling how China is exploiting this group vocationally. China is the world’s largest producer of cotton and solar panels, and the vast majority of these exports come from Xinjiang. For many Uyghurs, the reeducation camps are a launching pad to compulsory labor in these industries. Whether in Xinjiang or throughout China, the CCP is relocating Uyghurs and exploiting them for free or underpaid labor.

Formal determination of genocide against Uyghurs

In response, the Department of State labeled these atrocities as a genocide on Jan. 19, 2021—the final day of the Trump administration.2https://2017-2021.state.gov/determination-of-the-secretary-of-state-on-atrocities-in-xinjiang/index.html President Joe Biden has upheld this finding.3https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-usa-xinjiang/u-s-says-no-change-in-its-genocide-determination-for-chinas-xinjiang-idUSKBN2B12LG The label carries significant weight, beyond the bipartisan agreement surrounding it. The United States is a signatory of the Genocide Convention of 1948, which obligates member states to “prevent and punish” genocide anywhere it occurs.4https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide-convention.shtml Issuing a formal genocide finding is the first step in this process.

Deeper than America’s legal obligations, though, is the moral imperative. Words matter, especially in politics. Genocide, according to the 1948 Convention, is specific action taken “with intent to destroy” an ethnic or religious people group.5https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide-convention.shtml Confronting evil of this magnitude begins with naming it accurately. The United States has taken this first step.

It is, however, just that: a first step. For America to meet its legal and moral obligations in the face of an ongoing genocide, tough diplomacy is necessary, but wholly insufficient apart from a broader effort. Indeed, subsequent atrocity determinations from parliaments in Canada,6https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56163220 Britain,7https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-56843368 the Netherlands,8https://www.reuters.com/article/us-netherlands-china-uighurs/dutch-parliament-chinas-treatment-of-uighurs-is-genocide-idUSKBN2AP2CI and Lithuania9https://www.reuters.com/world/china/lithuanian-parliament-latest-call-chinas-treatment-uyghurs-genocide-2021-05-20/ have raised global awareness, but they have failed to stop the CCP’s oppression of Uyghurs. Chinese government officials blatantly deny all accusations of political persecution in Xinjiang and show no sign of easing up.10https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-rights/china-rejects-genocide-charge-in-xinjiang-says-door-open-to-u-n-idUSKBN2AM1UX

Over the past four months, subsequent events suggest the president is unwilling to meet these atrocities with more than words. 

The Biden administration’s conflicted response to the Uyghur genocide

At the outset of Biden’s presidency, the president cast his vision for America’s China policy: “We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance. But we are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so.”11https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/04/remarks-by-president-biden-on-americas-place-in-the-world/

The reference to cooperation was code for, among other things, climate change. Biden had indicated early on that climate change was his most important policy priority.12https://www.whitehouse.gov/priorities/ Given Beijing’s emissions levels, a global climate policy wouldn’t be truly global without China’s involvement and buy-in. Thus, the president announced his intent to bifurcate America’s competitive and cooperative agendas with China to ensure progress on both tracks simultaneously.

The CCP’s response was blunt, and has remained consistent: Beijing will not allow Washington to have its cake and eat it too. The price of progress on climate policy is America respecting China’s “internal issues,” such as its policies in Xinjiang, by remaining silent.

This tension came to a head last summer. Because of China’s significant cotton and solar panel exports, companies that operate in Xinjiang or purchase these goods from China run the risk of financially supporting the oppression of the Uyghur people. U.S. laws prohibit the importation of any goods tied to compulsory labor.13https://www.cbp.gov/trade/programs-administration/forced-labor In response, the White House debated in June whether to deem all exports from Xinjiang as having been made by slave labor.14https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/24/fact-sheet-new-u-s-government-actions-on-forced-labor-in-xinjiang/ According to reporting from Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, the climate faction fought and won a debate within the administration to only designate one company.15https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/24/china-solar-panels-biden-ban-uyghurs-human-rights/ Washington pulled its punches.

Since then, subsequent reporting from mainstream sources like the Associated Press have revealed that John Kerry, former secretary of state and Biden’s climate czar, has grown increasingly influential within the administration—and has used that influence to sideline officials advocating for a stronger response to China’s genocide.16https://apnews.com/article/business-religion-china-environment-and-nature-united-states-92243b29f1161b4cd4eb30fd8aa84b35

When asked about the trade-off between climate policy and human rights, specifically the Uyghurs, Kerry responded: “Life is always full of tough choices.”17https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/john-kerry-says-we-have-tough-choices-between-climate-change-and-genocide

In December, Congress unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and sent the bill to President Biden for his signature. On Dec. 23, the president signed the bill into law.18https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/12/23/bill-signed-h-r-6256/ This is certainly good news, and we ought to be grateful for this important action.

How should Christians respond to the Uyghur genocide?

For Christians, underneath issues like human rights and the environment are foundational concepts like human dignity and caring for creation. These frameworks come from Scripture’s opening pages and form the basis of much of Christian political thinking. Given the brokenness of our world as a result of the fall, however, these callings will conflict at key moments. The Uyghur genocide is such a moment. 

Right now, millions of Uyghurs are forcibly detained in internment camps, subjected to forced labor and draconian birth control. Countering the CCP must be a top priority of this administration and our allies. President Biden must respond with bold leadership and swift action. One of the roles of governments is to protect its citizens and allow them to live and worship freely. When governments fail to do this, the proper response is to counter them with strong moral leadership. 

Scripture tells us that every human is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). The imago Dei should reorient our priorities and train our hearts to care about people, above all else. As Christians, we ought to care well for the world in which we’ve been entrusted. That means that we should advocate for policies that care for the environment, but we should do so with the understanding that our care for people must always be our top priority.

Conclusion

We might feel helpless to counter the Chinese Communist Party as they are perpetrating a genocide against the Uyghurs, but each one of us can use our voice to speak up on behalf of those who can’t speak up for themselves. You can share articles on the persecution of Uyghurs on social media. You can invite a Uyghur to share their story through Zoom to your community. You can urge the U.S. government to continue taking strong measures to address these injustices.19https://erlc.com/resource-library/issue-briefs/erlc-supports-uyghur-forced-labor-prevention-act/

And we ought to pray often for persecuted people around the world. Below are a few specific ways to pray.

  • Pray for the leaders of China, that they will end their oppression and persecution of their citizens, especially Uyghurs, Christians, Hong Kongers, the Falun Gong, and other ethnic and religious minorities. 
  • Pray for Christians in China, that they will be bold in proclaiming the good news of the gospel and that they will stand up for those who are being persecuted.
  • Pray for world leaders, that they will have the courage and wisdom to counter China morally and hold the CCP accountable for their gross violations of human rights.

Christians should be on the frontlines of advocating for the dignity, human rights, and religious freedom of all people. We cannot remain silent or complacent in the face of such injustices. Proverbs 31:8 instructs us to “open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.” When we advocate for the vulnerable and oppressed, we are fulfilling the commands of Scripture and modeling to the watching world the heart of Christ. 

  • 1
    https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/04/china/xinjiang-detective-torture-intl-hnk-dst/index.html
  • 2
    https://2017-2021.state.gov/determination-of-the-secretary-of-state-on-atrocities-in-xinjiang/index.html
  • 3
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-usa-xinjiang/u-s-says-no-change-in-its-genocide-determination-for-chinas-xinjiang-idUSKBN2B12LG
  • 4
    https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide-convention.shtml
  • 5
    https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide-convention.shtml
  • 6
    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56163220
  • 7
    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-56843368
  • 8
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-netherlands-china-uighurs/dutch-parliament-chinas-treatment-of-uighurs-is-genocide-idUSKBN2AP2CI
  • 9
    https://www.reuters.com/world/china/lithuanian-parliament-latest-call-chinas-treatment-uyghurs-genocide-2021-05-20/
  • 10
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-rights/china-rejects-genocide-charge-in-xinjiang-says-door-open-to-u-n-idUSKBN2AM1UX
  • 11
    https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/04/remarks-by-president-biden-on-americas-place-in-the-world/
  • 12
    https://www.whitehouse.gov/priorities/
  • 13
    https://www.cbp.gov/trade/programs-administration/forced-labor
  • 14
    https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/24/fact-sheet-new-u-s-government-actions-on-forced-labor-in-xinjiang/
  • 15
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/24/china-solar-panels-biden-ban-uyghurs-human-rights/
  • 16
    https://apnews.com/article/business-religion-china-environment-and-nature-united-states-92243b29f1161b4cd4eb30fd8aa84b35
  • 17
    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/john-kerry-says-we-have-tough-choices-between-climate-change-and-genocide
  • 18
    https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/12/23/bill-signed-h-r-6256/
  • 19
    https://erlc.com/resource-library/issue-briefs/erlc-supports-uyghur-forced-labor-prevention-act/
By / Dec 21

When most of us in the West think about technology, our minds often revert to our smartphones, social media, and computer technology. Many of the debates surrounding these technologies tend to focus on how these tools are altering our behaviors, reformulating how we think about the very nature of truth, or even how they are aiding a deep polarization in the throes of secularization. While there is growing consensus across partisan lines about the dangers of Big Tech, there is little agreement on the nature of the problem or what to do about it. But for all of the partisan rancor and tribalization we see today, there is thankfully one issue that is uniting various political factions today — the widespread abuse of these tools by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), specifically in their relentless pursuit of suppressing the basic human rights of millions Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China.

For many, these atrocities are just becoming more well known and mainstream news — especially with the recent passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Act by the United States Congress, as well as the adoption of the unanimously passed resolution decrying these abuses as genocide by the Southern Baptist Convention this past June. While it may seem new, these abuses have been going on for years — often off the world’s radar — and have been fueled by a sophisticated network of surveillance and repressive technological controls designed to facilitate this ongoing genocide against the Uyghur population. 

As Christians we stand up against the abuses of power based on our foundational understanding of human dignity rooted in the imago Dei (Gen. 1:26-28) and the Christian ethic of neighbor love (Matt. 22:37-39). Right now, the church has the opportunity to speak up and advocate for the vulnerable and abused among us even if they live across the world under the heavy hand of a repressive regime like the CCP.

Tools of oppression against Uyghur Muslims

The reality of what is taking place among Uyghur Muslims in China is more gruesome and egregious than most have realized. This was made clear from video footage of Uyghur detainment that exposes rampant human rights violations of the worst kind. As my ERLC colleague Chelsea Patterson Sobolik has written:

Since 2017, the CCP has waged a systematic war of persecution against the Uyghur people, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost territory. 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.

These totalitarian tactics are waged against this people group based on their religious beliefs.They are subjected to propaganda-style reeducation that often includes renouncing deeply held beliefs and swearing ultimate allegiance to the Chinese state. But how exactly has the CCP been able to amass such power and control over these people without widespread knowledge and countermeasures?

The ability of this regime to mobilize its efforts to surveil and oppress Uyghurs has grown in large part due the massive advances of technology, namely widespread use of facial recognition technology, data surveillance, and the centralization of all communication technologies including the internet and social media. As I have previously written on the rise of digital authoritarianism, the CCP maintains almost complete access to personal and institutional data collected by Chinese technology companies or those who seek to access China’s lucrative markets. The Chinese government has also proudly and publicly promoted its use of facial recognition tools and social controls for the watching world. And these same tools are being marketed and used to profile, surveil, and round up Uyghurs all across the nation.

As Elizabeth C. Economy writes, the CCP has also built a robust and nearly impenetrable hold over public access to information. With “Chinanet,” the CCP has essentially created a walled garden, where any information that could challenge the heavy hand of the regime’s control is filtered out completely and inaccessible by Chinese citizens. For example, the ability to search for any type of pro-democracy media, or even information about the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre, has been stripped from the internet in China. The goal is to control the information flow and only expose citizens to highly-scripted propaganda that strengthens the CCP’s power and influence over its citizenry.

Economy further describes in her book, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, how the Chinese leadership has “directed significant time and energy in investing in technological upgrades to increase the state’s already potent capacity to monitor and prevent undesirable content from entering and circulating through the country.” They are effectively prevented from shifting the power imbalance or seeking to hold their leaders accountable for their denial of basic human rights, such as religious freedom.1A version of this section was previously published as Wired for Tyranny? in the September/October 2021 of Liberty Magazine. Used with permission. https://www.libertymagazine.org/article/wired-for-tyranny.

A Christian response to the CCP’s genocide against Uyghur Muslims

In light of these atrocities and blatant violations of basic human rights, what is the church to do? One of the main ways the church can engage on these important issues is by refusing to be silent and letting our elected officials know that the United States and other countries must not allow these violations of dignity and basic human rights to go unchallenged. From the outset of these events, the ERLC has been raising awareness and advocating against these egregious human rights violations and blatant religious freedom abuses. As early as 2019 when reports began to highlight the inhumane treatment of Uyghur Muslims, our team has relentlessly pushed for the United States and other nations around the world to counter China morally alongside efforts to counter them economically.

As mentioned above, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act last week, which now is due for President Biden to sign into law. This law will prevent goods being produced by forced labor from reaching our shores and highlight these human rights violations. This not only publicly signals our commitment to ending the atrocities, but also will put real economic pressure on China to change its practices. This is the first among many needed steps to condemn the CCP’s tyrannical grip over this people group. The CCP must not profit off the surveillance, detainment, and exploitation of the Uyghurs. 

Another aspect of advocacy is understanding the ways that technology has aided and facilitated much of this abuse. Without these powerful tools, the level of surveillance and control simply would not have been possible. This is another reason that the United States and other countries must not be complicit in aiding or supporting this regime through the devices we purchase, systems we employ, or even the messages that we send. While much of the work to be done to counter the CCP’s hold will be more expansive than simply speaking to the technologies at play, it must not be less than that. Technology is part of the social ecosystem that we all inhabit today and must not be seen as an ancillary issue but a core element of any effective foreign policy strategy. As Christians engage on these pressing issues in the public square, we must do so from a full-orbed vision of life in a digital society — committed to basic freedoms of expression, religious belief, and dignity for all.

  • 1
    A version of this section was previously published as Wired for Tyranny? in the September/October 2021 of Liberty Magazine. Used with permission. https://www.libertymagazine.org/article/wired-for-tyranny.