Cong. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission along with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), June 27 held a bipartisan hearing on the perilous state of religious freedom for Christians in China, Nigeria, Iran and other places around the world.
Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, head of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, led the witness panels, followed by the Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Nadine Maenza. David Curry and Tom Farr, the presidents of Open Doors USA and the Religious Freedom Institute, respectively, rounded out the hearing.
“Like many of you, the news that Christians in Sri Lanka were killed in a series of coordinated bombings on Easter Sunday saddened and sickened me,” said Smith. “As shocking as such news was, I cannot say it was surprising.” Citing John Allen, the author of the Global War on Christians, Smith said Allen observed “the shocking thing about the carnage is that it is not shocking – and instead forms part of an ugly, predictable global pattern.”
The April 2019 Sri Lanka attacks reminded Smith of Christmas Eve 2000, when a series of coordinated explosions killed Indonesian Christians in Jakarta and elsewhere. “Easter and Christmas–the two holiest days of the Christian calendar, days when I am sure many of the people in this room have been to Church with their families,” Smith said. Click here to read Chairman Smith’s remarks.
Brownback’s first testimony before the Commission follows the June 21 release of the State Department’s report on the state of international religious freedom globally. It also comes in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks on April 22 in Sri Lanka which killed more than 250 and wounded more than 500 innocent worshipers, including many children.
From North Korea, viewed by Open Doors USA as the worst country in the world in terms of Christian persecution, to Syria, where Christian minorities were viciously targeted by ISIS, the hearing offered a global overview of the issue, with attention to several countries of particular concern. It examined sources of anti-Christian bias and U.S. policy responses.
Citing a recent study by Pew, Brownback said, “Christians face the most wide-spread harassment of any religious group, targeted in 144 countries globally.” The Ambassador and former Kansas governor singled out Iran and Nicaragua for their particular abuse of people of faith, and also took aim at China’s especially brutal treatment of its own citizens. “In addition to its systematic and well-documented repression of Muslims in Xinjiang, Buddhists in Tibet, and Falun Gong practitioners throughout the country, the government has recently accelerated efforts to repress Christians.” Click here to read Brownback’s statement.
Vice Chair Maenza told the congressional panel that USCIRF monitors religious freedom abroad and makes policy recommendations to the President. She focused her remarks particularly on Pakistan, as well as Eritrea and Burma.
“Pakistan is a country where both the government and nonstate actors have long committed egregious abuses against Christians,” she said. “Over the past year, state security forces have disappeared dozens of young Christian men in Karachi. While many have been released, there is widespread fear in the community that the government will escalate these arbitrary arrests. Forced conversion of young Christian and Hindu women into Islam, often through bonded labor, remains a systemic problem. Many are kidnapped, forcibly married, and raped.” Click here to read Maenza’s testimony.
For over 25 years the Christian advocacy group Open Doors USA has released its World Watch List (WWL) documenting violations against Christians. It found, conservatively, that last year 4,146 Christians were killed for their faith, meaning that 11 Christians were killed, on average, every day. Additionally 2,625 Christians were detained without trial, arrested sentenced and imprisoned. Over 1,266 churches were attacked.
“Sadly, the number of violent incidents against Christian’s documented last year represents a dramatic rise over recent years,” testified Dr. David Curry, President, Open Doors USA. His organization believes the increase can be attributed to the spread of Islamic jihadist ideology in such places as Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq where theologies of hatred toward Christians are widely propagated. The rise of extreme nationalism in Asia is another factor, with India listed as 10th on the WWL because nationalistic Hindu leaders promote the idea that Muslims and Christians cannot be truly Indian. “It’s resulted in a shocking rise of attacks in Christian churches, with nearly 300 churches attacked thus far in 2019 and hundreds of cases of pastors held without trial—just for being Christian pastors,” Curry said.
(To view the hearing, play video above and advance to the 10 a.m. or 49:30 mark.)
Additionally, Curry said communist countries such as North Korea are hostile toward their citizens who practice their religion, stating that North Korea “is the most oppressive place on earth to practice religious faith.” Click here to read Curry’s statement.
Like Brownback, hearing witness Thomas Farr, President of Religious Freedom Institute and past head of the State Department’s International Religious Freedom office, condemned Chinese President Xi’s brutality.
“Three Chinese religious communities are suffering increased, systematic, and fierce persecution by the Xi regime,” Farr said. “They are Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians, both Protestant and Catholic. The Muslims of Xinjiang province are being subjected to a massive anti-Uighur and anti-Muslim campaign that is staggering in its sweep and totalitarian sophistication.” Click here to read Farr’s statement.
In addition to the above testimony, the Commission received two written submissions, one from former USCIRF Commissioner Elizabeth Prodromou on religious freedom violations in Turkey and Turkish-occupied Cyprus, and another from the Government of Hungary on its humanitarian efforts to help rebuild Christian communities in Iraq that had been targeted for destruction by ISIS.