The Department of State releases its yearly religious liberty report: China (with 85 quotes from Bitter Winter), Russia, Pakistan are severely criticized.
by Massimo Introvigne
There is a different administration from last year in Washington DC but the yearly survey of religious liberty produced by the U.S. Department of State in 2021 (covering events of 2020) is as strong as last year’s report, or stronger.
Secretary Blinken introduced the report on May 12 by singling out China as a country that “criminalizes religious expression” in general. Blinken did not avoid two politically significant definitions: “crimes against humanity” for how China treats religion, and “genocide” for what is being done to “Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.”
The section on China is a 136-page book that comprehensively denounces how all religions are persecuted in China. Torture, the systematic use of rape, and extra-judicial killings are among the “crimes against humanity” vested on Uyghur and other Muslims, Tibetan, Mongolian, and other Buddhists, house church Christians, dissident Catholics, members of banned groups labeled as xie jiao (that the document correctly translates as “heterodox teachings,”) and pretty much everybody else who tries to practice a religion outside of the rigid control of the state and the Chinese Communist Party.
In its part about the xie jiao, the report notes that practitioners of Falun Gong continue to suffer severe persecution. The document also refers extensively to the persecution of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), and notes that in its annual report the CAG stated that in 2020 “the authorities arrested more than 7,000 of its members and subjected them to physical abuse, including beatings, sleep deprivation, and being forced into stress positions. The CAG reported some individuals died in custody or as a result of police harassment.” The Department of State report mentions that “a three-year nationwide crackdown” on the CAG has been launched with the purpose of eradicating the movement, and that torture and abusive internment in psychiatric hospitals are common.
For the first time, on May 12, the United States issued sanctions against a Chinese officer specialized in the repression of the xie jiao, Yu Hui, former office director of the so-called Central Leading Group Preventing and Dealing with Xie Jiao, of Chengdu, “for his involvement in gross violations of human rights.”
The report also mentions the harassment and fake news spread against Uyghur and other Chinese refugees abroad, and the increase of the CCP propaganda aimed at denying the Xinjiang genocide and discrediting the witnesses and scholars that denounce it.
Readers of Bitter Winter will forgive us if we mention that, in the section on China, Bitter Winter remains, as it was in the report of last year, the single most quoted source. We were quoted 74 times in 2020. The quotes became 85 in 2021.
The sections on Nigeria, Myanmar, and Iran are also excellent documents worth reading. Concerning countries that Bitter Winter has covered recently, the section on Pakistan agrees that the country deserves to be included among the world’s worst violators of religious liberty designated as “countries of particular concern” by the Department of State. However, it also mentioned a temporary “waiver of the sanctions” that normally accompany such designation “in the important national interests of the United States.”
The section on South Korea mentions the accusations against Shincheonji connected with COVID-19 (although not the fact that Korean courts finally acquitted Shincheonji leaders from all COVID-related charges, since these court decisions were rendered in 2021, and the report only covers the year 2020). The report mentions the “stigmatization and discrimination” Shincheonji members claimed to have suffered, and notes that, “U.S. embassy officers engaged with government officials on issues related to religious freedom, including the religious freedom of Shincheonji Church members.”
The section on Russia offers a detailed discussion and criticism of the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It also notes that Falun Gong and Muslim groups few outside Russia would consider as radical or fundamentalist have been banned as “extremist,” and notes the continued harassment of the Church of Scientology. Russia, the report concludes, has “engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.”
The section on Germany mentions Scientology’s claims of “continued government discrimination against its members,” and discusses the “sect filters” issue. The report notes that in 2020, “At least four major political parties – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), and FDP – continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership. ‘Sect filters,’ signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS [Church of Scientology], remained in use in the public and private sectors.”
The problems of religious liberty are so many that no international report can be truly complete. However, the U.S. Department of State yearly report remains a key reference for all those dealing with freedom of religion or belief. The United States’ commitment to produce every year such a detailed survey of the field should be acknowledged and applauded by all friends of religious liberty throughout the world.