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 / Jun 8

On June 2, the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom released its 2021 International Religious Freedom Report. Each year, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) tasks the office with issuing a report to Congress exploring the global state of religious freedom. The recommendations in the State Department’s report “describe the status of religious freedom, government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies promoting religious freedom in nearly every country and territory throughout the world.”

Embassies, civil society organizations, and local clergy identify incidents that infringe on religious freedoms. Then, they partner with the State Department to track the efficacy of American efforts to restore religious freedom and human dignity. Through this process, the Office of International Religious Freedom collates all data into a massive report that gauges the status of religious freedom in each nation.

Major themes of the report

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reinforced America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring religious freedom for people of all faiths. Protecting America’s “first freedom” must remain a “vital foreign policy priority,” Blinken said. The secretary called upon “all societies” to “do more to address rising forms of hate.”

Rashad Hussain, the ambassador at-large for International Religious Freedom, noted three recurring themes throughout the report. First, far too many governments use discriminatory laws to oppress their own people. For example, China continues to commit genocide against the Uyghur people, while Burma ruthlessly persecutes the Rohingya people, and the Taliban oppresses Afghan women as second-class citizens. 

Additionally, rising cultural intolerance and acts of hatred are fueling conflict around the world. Mobs in nations like India burned down churches and mosques, often with social media serving as an incubator for these incidents of hate speech and threats of violence. 

Finally, Hussain celebrated the collaboration between civil society and government, a partnership that brings “essential” progress to the fight to secure international religious freedom. Hussain noted that “religion can be such a powerful force for good,” and the United States will seek to encourage positive religious action around the globe.

Countries of concern

The report details the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to heavily restrict religious expression. In addition to its aggressive persecution of Muslim Uyghurs in western China, the government “imprisoned about 3,000 people for exercising their right to freedom of religion” last year. The party “continued its multiyear campaign of ‘Sinicization’ to bring all religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine” by compelling clergy attendance at political indoctrination sessions and closely monitoring sermon content for anti-CCP rhetoric. Christians, Muslims, and Falun Gong practitioners reported housing and employment discrimination, citing increased anti-religious cultural sentiments reflected in strict government laws.

The report also notes that following the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan last summer, they have resumed enforcing strict Sharia law and persecuting religious minorities, forcing many Afghan Shia Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus to worship privately to avoid persecution. Christian converts and other religious minorities regularly faced death threats and increased cultural hostilities. ISIS-K and other nongovernmental terror groups claimed responsibility for dozens of mosque bombings and suicide attacks last year, killing hundreds of Shia Hazara Muslims.

Since a military coup in February, the new Burmese government has committed “an alarming escalation of grave human rights abuses.” The State Department reports that regime military forces have bombed Christian churches and killed pastors. The regime has continued their crusade against the Muslim Rohingya people, imprisoning over 144,000 in camps last year. The report notes that “Rohingya continued to be perceived as foreigners, irrespective of their citizenship status, and as members of a religion commonly viewed with fear and disdain.” The State Department is hopeful, though, that pro-democracy and religious freedom efforts continue to gain ground in Burmese culture and government.

In India, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) report that “the government failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities.” The report expresses concern over a rapid increase in violent attacks against Christians, as state police regularly ignored official complaints of violence. Hindu “cow vigilantes” killed Muslims on charges of smuggling cattle, while extremist leaders faced little government opposition for calling to “wage a war against Muslims.” Most religiously-motivated violence is performed by mobs and nongovernmental terror groups, but American officials continue to pressure the Indian government to protect the rights of religious minorities and discourage religious violence.

How is the ERLC involved?

The ERLC affirms Ambassador Hussain’s assessment that “no community is immune from these abuses,” and we will continue advocating for religious freedom for all people everywhere. Over the past several years, the ERLC has advocated extensively for Uyghurs and raised awareness for the plight of other persecuted minorities. The ERLC has also partnered with diverse coalitions to fight against blasphemy laws, stem the rise of anti-Semitism, and aid the resettelement of persecuted refugees. We are dedicated to advocating for the vulnerable and oppressed around the world and to fighting for the sacred rights of our persecuted brothers and sisters.

By / Apr 15

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss President Biden saying Putin is committing genocide in Ukraine, the Brooklyn subway shooting, and a Christian who escaped from a reeducation camp in Xinjiang. They also talk about several resources to prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Easter. 

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  1. Biden says Putin is committing genocide in Ukraine
  2. Frank James, suspect in Brooklyn subway shooting, discussed violence in YouTube clips
  3. Christian Detainee Who Escaped Xinjiang Camp | SBC resolution

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  • Dobbs Resource Page Prayer Guide | Right now, the Supreme Court is considering a major Mississippi abortion case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ERLC and other pro-life organizations filed an amicus brief in this case urging the Supreme Court to overturn the disatrous Roe v. Wade decision. Members of our team also joined pro-life advocates on the steps of the Supreme Court when oral arguments were heard last December. As we approach the Supreme Court’s final decision in June of this year, it’s important for Christians to pray for this landmark case and begin preparing our churches to serve vulnerable women and children in a potential post-Roe world. Download our free prayer guide at ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Dobbs Resource Page | Many Christians are aware that an important case about abortion is being decided at the Supreme Court this June. But for many, this case is confusing and wrapped in a lot of legal jargon. The ERLC wants to help with that, so we’ve created a resource page that will help you and your church understand what this case means, what could happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and how your church can prepare to serve vulnerable women and children in the aftermath. To learn more about the Dobbs case and how you can pray, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
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: