Thursday, April 22, 2021 : By Nathan Skates
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently issued its 2021 report on the state of religious freedom around the globe, detailing disturbing statistics on the persecution of different religious groups, particularly Christians and Muslims.
The USCIRF, chaired by educator Gayle Manchin, wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., recommended that Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam should be named as particular countries of concern.
Myanmar catapulted into international news earlier this year after the military staged a coup and seized control of the government. For years the nation has persecuted Rohingya Muslims, forcing over 700,000 to flee the country. Nearly 1 million are now living in exile. The report says that approximately 130,000 Rohingya Muslims are living in internment camps in Myanmar.
In India, Hindu nationalist groups execute attacks on religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians. Much of the nation has “anti-conversion laws.” Some of these anti-conversion laws ban interfaith marriages under the auspices that they are “forced conversions.” Other anti-conversion laws are based on vague criteria that lead to false accusations. Mobs of Hindu nationalists attack religious minorities with little or no government intervention. “In 2020, for example, mobs — fueled by false accusations of forced conversions — attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services,” the report noted.
Iran, which is 95 percent Shi’a Muslim, has continued its persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians, Baha’is, and Jews. The Middle Eastern nation conducts raids on and arrests Christians and Baha’is. One example, the report noted, happened in late November, when “Iran conducted a mass raid on Baha’i houses, arresting 20 people and searching about 50 houses.” The reports says that Iran ramped up persecution of Christians in 2020. “Officials lashed Christian convert Mohammed Reza Omidi 80 times for drinking communion wine in October following his completion of a two-year sentence for participation in a house church,” the authors wrote.
In another example, the report noted the arrest of “Christian convert Mary Mohammadi at a peaceful protest in Tehran. She was held incognito and subjected to beatings and sexual assault at the Vozara Detention Center. At a court hearing in April, Judge Javad Ahmadi from Branch 1167 of the Criminal Court of Tehran asked Mohammadi repeated questions about her faith and conversion from Islam to Christianity that had no bearing on her charge of ‘disturbing public order.’”
Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad was sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs.” In February, he was given an additional two-year sentence for promoting “Evangelical Zionist Christianity,” and in May he received an additional year for “propaganda against the state.”
Iran’s Ministry of Health said that COVID-19 was a Jewish conspiracy. “In September, state media advanced false ideas about Jewish victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks and Iran launched its third Holocaust denial cartoon contest,” the authors wrote. In May, unknown assailants attempted to set fire to the tomb of Esther and Mordecai. That same month, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted that the United States is controlled by “wealthy Zionists and their corporate owners.”
Other atrocities include:
The report praised the Trump administration’s “continued prioritization of international religious freedom,” such as Trump’s signing of an executive order on Advancing International Religious Freedom, which increased related foreign assistance annual funding to $50 million. Noted also was the Trump administration’s designation of 10 countries of particular concern. “Nigeria was named a CPC for the first time, a step that USCIRF had recommended every year since 2009.”
In addition, the report highlighted notable actions by Congress in 2020 to advance the cause of religious freedom, including passing the Uyghur Human Rights and Policy Act and Tibetan Policy and Support Act, adopting a resolution calling for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws, and holding numerous hearings that helped bring attention to egregious religious violations around the world.
No matter how one feels about Trump, there is no question that his administration put a priority on advancing the cause of religious liberty around the world. Unfortunately, much if not all of that work is now being undone by the Biden administration.
In early April, Secretary of State Antony Blinken presented the State Department’s 45th human rights report in which he repudiated the “unbalanced” view that religious liberty should be at the top of a hierarchy of human rights touted and defended by the United States. The Biden administration is instead emphasizing “human rights,” like LGBTQ rights, and will reengage with the U.N. Human Rights Council, a laughable organization given that it features China as one of its members, China being one of the chief offenders regarding religious persecution.
Or take Iran. The report made mention that the Trump administration, “continued its ‘maximum pressure’ tactic in 2020 as high-level officials, including then Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, repeatedly highlighted the plight of persecuted religious minorities” and imposed sanctions.
One of the USCIRF’s nine commissioners Johnnie Moore noted that Iran is “the world’s leading proprietor of hostage diplomacy and the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism” and targets minorities. He drew the contrast between the Trump administration and Biden administration, saying,
“I’m appalled by reports that certain Biden administration officials would, in effect, reward Iran for its bad behavior by eliminating sanctions prematurely. Negotiations with Iran must only be pursued in consultation with America’s allies in the Middle East (including Saudi Arabia and Israel). They must involve the release of arbitrarily detained Americans (and others) and address Iran’s gross human rights abuses and proxy activities, and those negotiations are only reasonable if they produce an outcome that would be satisfactory to a bipartisan majority of members of Congress, as if a new deal were a treaty. Otherwise, Iran will only take advantage of American goodwill to lie more, kidnap more, kill more innocents, threaten the elimination of Israel, and further destabilize the world.”
Moore ended his comments on Iran by quoting Wang Xiyue, who was taken hostage by Iran during the Obama administration after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Xiyue said, “The menace of the Islamic Republic can’t be appeased . . . for 42 years Iran has demonstrated that it changes its behavior only in response to strength in the form of American-led international pressure.”
The Biden administration shows either a deliberate disdain for the importance of religious freedom or a frightening ignorance. Totalitarian nations such as China and Iran will not respect religious freedom unless ample pressure is applied. Yet this administration shows weakness with both, particularly Iran, even going so far as to allow it a possible path to obtaining nuclear weapons.
One should not be surprised at the Biden administration’s failure to stand up to Iran considering the administration’s war on religious freedom at home through measures like the Equality Act. In the last few days, the administration filed an appeal in an attempt to trample religious freedom and force religious hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other objectors to fund and/or perform transgender operations.
If the President of the United States won’t protect religious liberty in America, where it has been most sacred, the world will suffer. President Biden and Secretary Blinken should follow the lead of President Trump and Secretary Mike Pompeo in fighting fiercely for religious liberty so that all may be safe to worship freely and follow their conscience.