UK: The Home Office, asylum and religious conversion

Home Office cites Bible to deny asylum

 

By Kaya Burgess

 

The Times (22.03.2019) – https://bit.ly/2GnTDBV– The Home Office refused asylum to an Iranian who converted from Islam to Christianity because, it said, Christianity was not a peaceful religion.

 

Immigration officials wrote to the man, who had converted to Christianity on the ground that it was a peaceful religion, citing violent passages from the Bible to support their claim. They said that the Book of Revelation was “filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violence”.

 

The Church of England condemned the “lack of religious literacy” after the man said that he now faced persecution in Iran for his faith. Church officials called for a “serious overhaul” of Home Office policies.

 

The letter cited a passage from Leviticus in the Old Testament, which says: “You will pursue your enemies and they will fall by the sword before you.” It also referenced chapter ten of Matthew’s gospel, in which Jesus says: “I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

 

It said: “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge.”

 

Nathan Stevens, an immigration caseworker who is also a Christian and is helping the unnamed asylum seeker with his appeal, shared the letter and said he was shocked by “this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum”.

 

“Whatever your views on faith,” he said, “how can a government official arbitrarily pick bits out of a holy book and then use them to trash someone’s heartfelt reason for coming to a personal decision to follow another faith?”

 

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Rev Paul Butler, said in a statement shared on Twitter by the Archbishop of Canterbury: “I am extremely concerned that a government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities. To use extracts from the Book of Revelation to argue that Christianity is a violent religion is like arguing that a government report on the impact of climate change is advocating drought and flooding.”

 

A spokesman for the Home Office, which could not confirm whether the official who sent the letter had been reprimanded, said: “This letter is not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith.

 

“We continue to work closely with key partners . . . to improve our policy guidance and training provided to asylum decision-makers so that we approach claims involving religious conversion in the appropriate way.”

 

The bishop said: “The fact that these comments were made at all suggests the problem goes deeper than a lack of religious literacy among individual civil servants and indicates that the management structures and ethos of the Home Office, when dealing with cases with a religious dimension, need serious overhaul.”

 

Stephen Evans of the National Secular Society said that asylum decisions should be based on facts, adding: “It’s not the role of the Home Office to play theologian.”

 

Campaigners have complained of a “culture of disbelief” among officials dealing with asylum claims based on religious conversion.

 

A 2016 report from the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief said that Christian asylum seekers and converts were being asked “Bible trivia” questions. It warned that questions from crib sheets were a “very poor way of assessing a conversion asylum claim” and could result in wrong decisions and expensive appeals.

 

A report published yesterday by the Commons home affairs committee accused the Home Office of showing a “shockingly cavalier” attitude towards immigration detention, including a lack of sufficient judicial safeguards and failings when dealing with individual cases.

 

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “Detention is an important part of our immigration system — but it must be fair, humane and used only when absolutely necessary.” She added that most people detained were held only for “short periods” and that such people could not by law be held indefinitely.

 

Church of England response to Home Office letter regarding Iranian asylum seeker

 

21/03/2019

 

Speaking in response to the publication of an excerpt from a Home Office ‘reasons for refusal’ letter sent to a Christian convert who had applied for asylum The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler said:

 

“I am extremely concerned that a Government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities. To use extracts from the Book of Revelation to argue that Christianity is a violent religion is like arguing that a Government report on the impact of Climate Change is advocating drought and flooding.

 

“It is good that the Home Office has recognised that this decision is inconsistent with its policies and that its staff need better training. But the fact that these comments were made at all suggests that the problem goes deeper than a lack of religious literacy among individual civil servants and indicates that the management structures and ethos of the Home Office, when dealing with cases with a religious dimension, need serious overhaul.

 

“I look forward to hearing what changes in training and practice follow from this worrying example.

 

“The Church of England has regularly raised the issue of the religious literacy of staff at all levels within the Home Office. This fresh case shows just how radically the Home Office needs to change in its understanding of all religious beliefs.”

 

The Bishop of Durham leads for the Bishops in the House of Lords on matters relating to immigration, asylum and refugees.

 

Comment from His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London

 

21 March 2019

 

It is with great concern that I read reports from various sources yesterday regarding a letter from the Home Office rejecting an Iranian asylum seeker, and convert to Christianity, based on, at best a complete and utter misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Christian Scripture, and at worst an intentional manipulation of the text to justify the rejection of this vulnerable individual.

 

Home Office process and procedure on asylum issues, especially pertaining to religious converts, has been a source of ongoing conversation with the Home Office for a number of years. Through our Asylum Advocacy Group, which I founded and convene, we are working with the Home Office on a training programme due to be implemented within the coming months for case workers which takes into account incidents such as these, and many more like it.

 

This particular incident needs thorough investigation because while it has been accepted by a spokesperson from the Home Office as ‘not in accordance with our policy’, it must be determined whether this is merely out of misunderstanding or a proactive attempt to adversely affect the application of someone whose life may very literally be at risk. It must also be ascertained as to whether religious discrimination is at work, as there is no place for partiality within a Government that seeks to promote equality, and abides by Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights among other agreements.

 

We have been told on numerous occasions that the Home Office is not even in a position to ask whether an employee, case worker or contractor has any religious affiliation at all. Taking this into consideration, it now is astounding that such brash comments about a person’s religious belief can be made by an employee or contractor of that same institution.

 

Since yesterday, other examples have also arisen of similar malpractices when it comes to misrepresenting Scripture and rejecting asylum claims on those grounds, and so I do hope that these are also looked at in their entirety, and not a single case in isolation.

 

I look forward to our ongoing work with the Home Office as I commend the faithful and professional practice of the vast majority of Home Office staff and contractors.

 

Finally we must realise the extent of these actions, and that they have a bearing on people of faith who are potentially vulnerable in their state of origin, and vulnerable here in Britain as asylum seekers, and for this we must take great care to ensure that such violations do not go undetected or untreated.

 

Catholic News Agency (25.03.2019) – The British Home Office has agreed to reconsider the asylum claim of an Iranian Christian, after it was shown on Twitter that the department had denied the application on the grounds that Christianity is not a peaceful religion.

 

“The Home Office have agreed to withdraw their refusal and to reconsider our client’s asylum application, offering us a chance to submit further representations. A good start, but more change is needed”, the Iranian’s caseworker, Nathan Stevens, tweeted March 22.

 

Stevens added that he hopes “there will be real change though as it isn’t all about this one case; there’s a much wider problem to be addressed here.”

 

The immigration caseworker had tweeted photos March 19 of the Home Office’s letter explaining its reason for refusing the convert’s asylum claim, commenting: “I’ve seen a lot over the years, but even I was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum.”

 

The asylum seeker had noted in his 2016 application that among his reasons for converting was that Christianity talks of “peace, forgiveness and kindness” while “in Islam there is violence rage and revenge.”

 

The refusal letter cited biblical passages, from Leviticus, Matthew, Exodus, and Revelation, which it said contradicted the asylum seeker’s claims: “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion,” the denial letter stated.

 

Stevens said: “Whatever your views on faith, how can a government official arbitrarily pick bits out of a holy book and then use them to trash someone’s heartfelt reason for coming to a personal decision to follow another faith?”

 

The Home Office, the British government department responsible for immigration, drugs policy, crime, fire, counter-terrorism, and policing, has said that the refusal letter is “not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution,” the Catholic Herald reported. It added that “we continue to work closely with key partners … to improve our policy guidance and training provided to asylum decision-makers.”

 

Sarah Teather, director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK, said March 21 that the refusal letter “is a particularly outrageous example of the reckless and facetious approach of the Home Office to determining life and death asylum cases – they appear willing to distort any aspect of reality in order to turn down a claim.”

 

“This case demonstrates the shocking illiteracy of Christianity within the Home Office … Here at JRS, we routinely encounter cases where asylum has been refused on spurious grounds.”

 

She added that “as this instance gains public attention, we need to remember it reflects a systematic problem and a deeper mindset of disbelief within the Home Office, and is not just an anomaly that can be explained away.”

 

Stephen Evans, CEO of the National Secular Society, commented on Twitter that it was “totally inappropriate” for the Home Office “to play theologian.” He added that “Decisions on the merits of an asylum appeal should be based on an assessment of the facts at hand – and not on the state’s interpretation of any given religion.”

 

Paul Butler, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, expressed “extreme concern” that the Home Office “could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities … that these comments were made at all suggests that the problem goes deeper than a lack of religious literacy among individual civil servants and indicates that the management structures and ethos of the Home Office, when dealing with cases with a religious dimension, need serious overhaul.”

 

Stevens has also noted that the refusal letter was part of a larger problem. He quoted in a March 20 tweet from another refusal that stated: “You affirmed in your AIR that Jesus is your saviour, but then claimed that He would not be able to save you from the Iranian regime. It is therefore considered that you have no conviction in your faith and your belief in Jesus is half-hearted.”

 

Shia Islam is the state religion of Iran, though several religious minorities are recognized and granted freedom of worship. However, conversion from Islam is strictly prohibited.

 

Open Doors UK said that 114 Christians were arrested in Iran in December 2018. Many of them were reportedly converts from Islam.

 

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in its 2018 report that “in the past year, religious freedom in Iran continued to deteriorate … with the government targeting Baha’is and Christian converts in particular.” It said that “Christian converts and house church leaders faced increasingly harsh sentencing: many were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for their religious activities.”


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Crimean Tatar Imam arrested on charges of ‘calls to extremism’ in Russian-occupied Crimea

By Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (17.04.2019) – https://bit.ly/2VLQDG0 – Armed searches of both a mosque and the home of the Imam were carried out on 15 April in the Balaclava region of occupied Crimea, with the Imam, Rustem Abilev arrested on charges of making ‘calls to extremist activities’.  Russia’s abuse of ‘extremism’ legislation is notorious, and suspicions about this ‘operation’ are only exacerbated by the fact that the FSB and other enforcement officers appear to have been accompanied by several Russian and Russian-controlled TV channels.

All such channels later cited the FSB in calling the Imam a person born in Uzbekistan.  This was probably to avoid admitting to the arrest of yet another Crimean Tatar, just two weeks after a major offensive against the civic initiative Crimean Solidarity and arrests of 23 Crimean Tatar activists and civic journalists.  Most of them could also be described as ‘people born in Uzbekistan’ where Crimean Tatars lived in exile after the 1944 Deportation.

The FSB claims that the arrested man “is the leader of a group of radical Islamists who gave sermons in one of Sevastopol’s religious institutions with the use of prohibited literature, in which he called to violent actions in relation to people who do not share his religious views”.   During closed sessions he is alleged to have ideologically worked on believers, “drawing new members into extremist activities”.

FSB assertions after the arrests of Ukrainian citizens must always be treated with caution, and here the claims are essentially contradicted by the charges which, by Russian standards, are fairly mild.  Paragraph 1 of Article 280 of Russia’s criminal code which it is illegally applying in Crimea punishes for something termed “public calls to carry out extremist activities”.  It envisages a penalty from up to a steep fine to a maximum 3-year prison sentence.  Given that 55 totally law-abiding Crimean Muslims are currently facing up to life imprisonment on ‘terrorism’ charges based solely on allegations of involvement in the peaceful Hizb ut-Tahrir movement which is legal in Ukraine, it seems likely that the allegations of ‘calls to violence’ against Abilev were for the propaganda media and may well be quietly shelved.

Abilev is a dentist with his own surgery.  He is married and his wife is seemingly expecting their first child.  Crimean Solidarity activists who went to the village of Shtormove (near Sevastopol) spoke with a local resident who had only praise for Abilev and called the charges against him yet another attempt to intimidate the Crimean Tatar people.

This is at least the fourth time since Russia’s invasion and annexation, that an armed search has been carried out of a mosque in occupied Crimea.

During the last hunt at the Mosque / Muslim Cultural Centre Sozidanye [Creation] in Simferopol for ‘prohibited literature’, the armed and masked men ‘found’ it – this time with insulting disregard for Muslim practice, near a toilet.

With respect to such charges, Vitaly Ponomaryov, a senior analyst for the Memorial Human Rights Centre, notes that Russia has used anti-extremism legislation to launch “a conveyor belt of political repression where you can be sentenced on the basis of spurious cases which have little in common with reality”. This conveyor belt “until it’s stopped, will demand more and more victims”.

This Ukrainian Muslims have learned at first hand.  As mentioned, 55 men have been arrested since January 2015 on charges of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, with the charges not based on any crimes that the men are believed to have committed, nor even of substantiated charges against Hizb ut-Tahrir itself.  ‘Proof’ in such cases is often provided by ‘secret witnesses’ and extremely questionable ‘expert assessments’.  Four men have thus far been prosecuted for involvement (which they did not deny) in the equally peaceful Tablighi Jamaat movement, which Russia has, just as arbitrarily, called ‘extremist’.

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Egyptian govt legalizes 900 churches in three years

New law replaces the 1934 legislation that made the construction of new churches subject to ten conditions

 

 

By Arnaud Bevilacqua

La Croix International (15.04.2019) – https://bit.ly/2GwjkQX – President Abdel Fatteh al Sissi’s Egyptian government legalized more than 100 Christian churches – 111 to be precise – in March this year.

This makes a total of 984 centers of Christian worship centers that have been legalized, restored or built over the last three years.

 

Law of August 2016

A new law on worship dating from August 2016 provides the framework for the process of legalizing and authorizing the building of new churches.

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church gave its backing to the new law following months of tension with the al Sissi government. The new law replaced 1934 legislation that made the construction of new churches subject to ten conditions.

According to the old rules, building a church – in contrast to a mosque – required compliance with numerous conditions relating to the distance from schools, canals, government buildings, railways and residential zones.

Moreover, even when authorization to build was obtained, a project often remained in suspense if it failed obtain the consent of local communities.

In many cases, the rigid application of the rules prevented the building of churches in cities and villages inhabited by Christians, particularly in rural areas in Upper Egypt.

It also led to the spontaneous establishment of places of worship without the necessary authorizations.

Discrimination continues

As a result, Christians were regularly suspected of building churches without permits. The Coptic Orthodox Church has long hoped that a new law would put an end to these conflict situations.

Islamist groups often made use of these situations to attack Christians with greater or lesser virulence and sometimes carry out their threats.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Initiative for Individual Rights, a local human rights organization, published a report in November 2018 that strongly criticized the 2016 law governing the building of churches.

The report concluded that 15 Christian worship centers had experienced incidents and nine of these had been definitively closed between September 2017 and October 2018.

 

Government aims to win over Coptic community

The Copts are one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East, making up 8 to 10% of the Egyptian population, i.e. 8 million people.

Often targeted by the local branch of ISIS, the Coptic minority also receives significant attention from President al Sissi whose authoritarianism is subject to regular criticism.

Nevertheless, the Egyptian president has sought to present himself as the defender of the Coptic Church, often promising support to the community.

Thus, in January, he attended Coptic Christmas celebrations and the inauguration of the new Cathedral of the Nativity on the site of the new Egyptian administrative capital, which is currently under construction in the desert near Cairo.

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IRAN: Activist who protested against compulsory veil gets one year in prison

Vida Movahedi was arrested last October for showing her head uncovered in Tehran’s Enghelab Square. She was convicted of “fomenting corruption and debauchery” on 2 March, but her sentence was made public only recently. She describes her fight as “civic revolt”.

 

AsiaNews.it (15.04.2019) – https://bit.ly/2V2vnOX– An Iranian court sentenced a woman to a year’s imprisonment after she was convicted of objecting to covering her hair, a controversial issue that has sparked street protests in recent months repressed by force and arrests.

 

Vida Movahedi was taken into custody last October for showing her head uncovered (pictured) in Enghelab (Revolution) Square, waving her veil and some red balloons, her lawyer Payam Dérafchane told media.

 

The activist was sentenced for “fomenting corruption and debauchery”, he explained in a trial that saw her convicted on 2 March. State news agency IRNA announced the decision only a few days ago.

 

Movahedi, the mother of a two-year-old girl, had already participated in public protests in late December 2017 in central Tehran, becoming the face and symbol of the struggle against the compulsory veil. Like scores of other women, she was arrested.

 

At her trial she told the judge that she was “against the compulsory Islamic veil” and that she wanted to express her opinion through a “civic revolt”.

 

According to some sources, she could be released on bail but, so far, the authorities have refused to do so.

 

For women, covering their heads became compulsory in Iran following the rise to power of the ayatollahs following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

 

The fight against the obligation is nothing new. However, since the beginning of last year the movement has expanded and acquired greater vigour and visibility.

 

Through videos and messages posted online, activists encourage women to remove their head coverings and post their pictures on social media.

 

Reacting to the protests, the deputy speaker of the Iranian Parliament suggested in January that a referendum might be held on the issue, but so far, nothing has officially happened.


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LAOS: Vientiane arrests three US citizens over distribution of material on Christianity

Wayne, Autumn and Joseph have been held at their hotel for six days. The US embassy in Laos was informed and is following  the case. A local Christian group is trying to help the three. The authorities of the Buddhist country consider Christianity a “foreign religion”. The government does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

 

AsiaNews.it (13.04.2019) – https://bit.ly/2v87iI4 – The Laos authorities have arrested three US citizens in the Sing district (Luang Namtha province) for distributing bibles and other (Protestant) evangelical material. This was denounced by Vision Beyond Borders (Vbb), a Christian organization based in the USA.

 

Identified by their organization only with their names, Wayne, Autumn and Joseph are believed to have been detained at the hotel for six days, after visiting villages in northern Laos to distribute religious material. “It seems that the interrogations are proceeding slowly. [Police officers] They took them to a room and told them they would be back in 10 minutes, but they disappeared for four to five hours, “says Eric Blievernicht, Head of VBB Operations.

 

Blievernicht states that he is aware that the US embassy in Laos has been informed and has been involved in the case; he adds that only the three Americans have been arrested and that there are no Laotians among them. A US State Department spokesman announced last night that he could “confirm the temporary detention and subsequent release of three US citizens in Luang Namtha, Laos”.

 

An official from the Luang Namtha Police Department confirms that the three were arrested but denies that they are detained. “What we know about these three individuals is that they are not in custody. Their passports have just been confiscated, “he reports.

 

A local Christian group is trying to help the three. “We have just learned of this and are traveling to the province of Luang Namtha to assist these three Americans,” the leader of a church in Vientiane declared on condition of anonymity.

 

Although the Constitution of the Laotian communist regime claims to protect religious freedom, the authorities of the Buddhist country consider Christianity a “foreign religion”. In Laos, the Catholic community is a small minority: its faithful number around 45 thousand and represent 0.7% of the country’s 7.1 million inhabitants. The situation of the Church in Laos remains delicate, as the government exercises strict control over religions and does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The difficult relations between Church and State are accentuated above all in local governments and among citizens.


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Call to action: Time to increase pressure to save Uyghurs

By Paul Prososki

Bitter Winter (08.04.2019) – https://bit.ly/2X6hOLU – Repeating the message “Never Again,” broad coalition rallies to stop cultural genocide in China, call for specific US government action.

Remembering the Baren Massacre

Saturday, April 6, was a beautiful and sunny spring day in Washington, DC.  As thousands of tourists crowded the parks of the nation’s capital to get a last glimpse of the famous cherry blossoms, about a thousand people gathered in a central Washington square to address a more urgent problem.

The day before, April 5, was the 29th anniversary of the Baren Massacre.  On that day in 1990, ethnic Uyghur Muslims in the township of Baren, near Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang region, protested forced abortions that were ordered to fulfill China’s One-Child Policy.  In response, China deployed Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) units to impose order, and over the next days thousands of protestors were killed.

To commemorate those lives lost, and to call for action against the continuing repression and abuse of Uyghur Muslims in China, organizers staged the “Rally Supporting the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act & UIGHUR Act.”  With one voice, speakers declared that the time for talk had passed, and that action was now needed.  They called these two pieces of legislation vital to putting pressure on China to change its inhumane policy, and demanded the US Congress pass the legislation.

Demanding Legislation

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act seeks to document abuses of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, provide protection to US citizens and permanent residents against Chinese pressure and retaliation, and apply all available tools of the Congress, the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the State Department – including Global Magnitsky Act sanctions and prohibition of sales of US goods and services to any Chinese entity engaged in the surveillance or internment of ethnic minorities and religious believers – to bring about policy change in China. The Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act (UIGHUR Act) directs the Secretary of State to prioritize advocacy on behalf of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang in relations with other states; restricts US government procurement from any entity that participates in repression in Xinjiang; imposes restrictions on US exports to the region; and takes steps to protect journalists and non-governmental organizations.

The scene this Saturday was striking: in Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue, perfectly positioned between the White House two blocks to the west, and the Trump International Hotel two blocks to the east, people from all over the world were gathered.  Hundreds of attendees waved the blue flags of East Turkestan (the name Uyghurs prefer for Xinjiang) together with the red, white, and blue of the US and Canadian flags.  People traveled from Montreal and Toronto in Canada, from Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and from many US states including New York, Colorado, and Minnesota.  Many Uyghur families were present, but many non-Uyghurs came in solidarity, including Muslims from many ethnic backgrounds, Christians and Buddhists from China, and human rights activists from America.

Uyghur Leaders Speak Out

The rally was organized by the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), together with the Burma Taskforce.  Omer Kanat of the WUC opened the rally and served as Master of Ceremonies throughout.  The program began with the singing of the US national anthem by a young Uyghur boy dressed in traditional ethnic clothes, and then the playing of the East Turkestan national anthem.  This dual focus on the plight of Uyghurs, but also on the values that America represents and the duty of America to defend the Uyghurs, continued throughout the day.

Mr. Kanat opened the program by thanking all the diverse participants for coming out on a beautiful spring day to take a stand for justice.  He described the treatment of Uyghurs in China as a “great world crime,” “cultural destruction,” and “genocide.”  He emphasized the broad nature of the coalition assembled, and related that diversity to the values that America stands for.

Mr. Kanat also introduced another theme that would run through the event, that of “Never Again!”, a classical topic of the Uyghur public rhetoric. He said that the civilized world had said Never Again! after the Holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s, but that we found ourselves today in a situation we haven’t seen since the 1930s.  If we are serious about the Never Again! pledge, we must take action now.

Never Again! was repeated by many speakers.  Dolkun Isa, President of the WUC based in Munich, declared that Congressional legislation was required to make Never Again! real.  Ilshat Hassan, President of the Uyghur Americans Association cited Raphael Lemkin (1900–1959), the Polish Jew who escaped the Holocaust and led the drafting of the international convention against genocide.  He said we are now seeing in China exactly what Lemkin had warned against.  Nury Turkel, Chairman of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, cited Ambassador Michael Kozak of the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor as saying that the situation in China “has not been seen since the 1930s.”  Holocaust survivor Sami Steigmann of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center made the same connection, saying the Holocaust happened because no one stood up to stop it, and now governments across the world must rise up in the face of a new genocide.  Dr. Yang Jianli, President of the Citizen Power Initiatives for China, remarked wryly that Uyghurs were suffering under “Fascism with Chinese Characteristics” and that we must keep our Never Again! vow to save them.  Kristina Olney of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation used the Never Again! phrase in reference to the crimes both of Nazi Germany and to those of Communism around the world.

Dolkun Isa, President of the WUC, introduced another common theme, that the time for words has passed, and now it is time for action.  He called it a critical time for China and for the world.  But he also said that there is reason for hope, because pressure from abroad is finally building.  He cited the fact that China was forced to admit to the mass detention of Uyghurs at a UN Human Rights Review in August 2018.  The European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the transformation through education camps in China in October 2018.  Canada followed suit shortly afterward, and Turkey “broke its silence” in 2019.  He cited a bipartisan list of high-ranking US officials that have raised alarm about the situation, including Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, and Senator Marco Rubio.  But he stressed that we must move beyond words to actions.  The US and the EU must work together to put pressure on China.  Congress must pass the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act and the UIGHUR Act, and the administration must impose sanctions on officials under the Global Magnitsky Act.  Only then can we make Never Again! real.

Focus on Action

The focus on action was reinforced by many speakers.  In addition to repeated calls for passage of the Congressional legislation and for implementation of Magnitsky sanctions, many speakers called for official prohibition of sales of goods and services to any entity with ties to the repression machine in China; the sanctioning of any American company that sells electronic or other products that can be used by China to monitor the population; and the banning of the import of any goods made in the Chinese prison labor system.  In addition, several speakers called for a consumer boycott of all products from China.

Letters from multiple elected officials were read from the podium calling for tougher action against China.  Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) pledged to “work with you to end this horrific abuse” and called for everyone to speak with one voice.  Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) called the treatment of Uyghurs a “crime against humanity” and called for Magnitsky sanctions.  Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) also delivered letters of support and called for Congressional action.  Katrina Lantos Swett, the President of the Lantos Foundations for Human Rights and Justice named after the great Congressional voice for human rights, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA, 1928–2008), also sent a letter observing that the whole region of Xinjiang had “turned into a prison.”

Christian Solidarity with the Uyghurs

Together with this bipartisan group of lawmakers and Congressional interests, a broad range of advocates and groups came together to advocate for action to defend Uyghurs.  Over 300 imams signed a petition calling for boycotts of Chinese goods and action by the US government, and Muslims from many different ethnic groups traveled from nearby states to be at the rally.  Burma advocate Imam Malik Mujahid helped to organize the event, and led chants of “USA, USA” to help drive home the point that defending Uyghurs (and Burmese) are key American values.  Bhuchung Tsering, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet stressed the long and close history between the Tibetan and Uyghur nations, and declared his solidarity with the Uyghurs’ suffering, and representatives of the Mongolian nation were present to deliver similar sentiments.  Dominic Nardi of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom stressed his role as delivering the bipartisan, institutional concern of the United States government on the issue of the Uyghurs, and called for immediate action.  Kristina Olney of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation spoke of the plight of the Uyghurs as part of the ongoing tragedy of Communism, and that anti-Communists around the world are standing with oppressed believers in China and calling for action.  Chinese Christians attended as well, to lend their voices in defense of persecuted believers of all faiths.  Tracy Jiao of The Church of Almighty God condemned the Chinese government’s attempts to “Sinicize” all religions – Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Daoist, and others – and pledged her whole church in solidarity with Uyghurs against Chinese “cultural genocide.”

When asked why her Christian brothers and sisters had come out to rally for the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, one member of The Church of Almighty God, Kunrui Li, responded, “Huge numbers of Uyghurs have been detained in concentration camps.  They are tortured and abused, even persecuted to death. This is a gross violation of human rights.  Although we have different beliefs, we are all suffering the cruel persecution of the Chinese government.  We feel that we have the responsibility to stand up and defend human rights.  Since the establishment of our church in 1991, Christians from The Church of Almighty God have been suffering persecution. Many have been tortured, put under heavy psychological pressure, and sentenced to prison.  Some of our brothers and sisters are being held in Xinjiang’s concentration camps next to Uyghurs. Today we participate in this rally to express our solidarity and support to them.”

This spirit of solidarity was abundant at the rally in Washington.  The mood was serious, because millions are suffering persecution.  But it was also hopeful, as so many people from diverse backgrounds were coming together to call for action, and so many officials in Europe and the United States are finally listening.  With cries of Never Again! and pledges of action, participants left energized to take the fight to the world and to China.

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Also:

HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries: http://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/ 
List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/