It has been more than a year since Burmese authorities began a brutal campaign terrorizing, sexually assaulting, and killing mainly Rohingya Muslims, leaving burned villages and corpses in their wake; more than a year since more than 700,000 fled across the border to Bangladesh. Despised for being both ethnically and religiously different, Rohingya Muslims are considered by Burma's military and many of the majority Buddhist population as outsiders illegally residing in the country with the goal of spreading Islam across the land.
The Houthi regime in Yemen claims that Baha’is are waging a “Satanic war” against Muslim Yemenis. The escalation of hateful rhetoric conjures up frightening memories of what Baha’is in Iran faced immediately after the 1979 revolution.
To the surprise of many, there is a foreign policy issue on which the White House and Democrats and Republicans in Congress have agreed for over two decades: the global promotion and protection of religious freedom, defined as the fundamental human right to believe in and be guided by any faith, or none.
For two hours the pastor sat straight, serenely listening to people claiming to be members of his church, saying he provided Bibles in Kurdish and kept a map of Kurdistan. None of the judges asked to see evidence, and none was presented. At noon, a judge asked Mr. Brunson to speak. He replied in Turkish: “My faith teaches me to forgive. I forgive those who testified against me.”
The international community and the U.S. government must put unrelenting pressure on whoever wins Wednesday’s election to immediately stop the harassment of the country’s religious minorities.
More than ever, USCIRF believes that the United States should take a stand for the religious minorities that Russia is oppressing in Russia, as well as in Crimea and the Russian-occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk. The commissioners strongly recommend that Russia be designated a Country of Particular Concern for its severe religious freedom violations, and that appropriate sanctions be imposed against the Russian Federation, including under the Magnitsky Act and the new provisions available in the Global Magnitsky Act.
"For most pastors, the beginning of a new year is filled with the promise of youth programs, baptisms, and marriages. Instead, Pastor Andrew Brunson — Presbyterian cleric in Turkey, American citizen, and pawn in an international game of hostage diplomacy — is spending it in a Turkish jail."
11/16/17: The List No One Wants to Be On
Thanks to new legislation, the designation of CPCs by the State Department — which did not occur every year and which has not happened since October 2016 — is expected in November. And we, as chairman and vice chairwoman of USCIRF, very much hope that the Trump administration’s list of CPCs will look a lot like ours.
With President Trump going to China, we must not forget the persecution and struggles of Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, and the many other members of religious and ethnic minority communities. The Chinese government must uphold, not repress, their rich religious and cultural traditions and free the many prisoners of conscience, including the Panchen Lama and Gulmira Imin.
Commissioner Rev. Thomas J. Reese: Thirteen years ago this month, Eritrea was designated a CPC and placed on a list which, in an ideal world, would not have to exist. Along with my fellow commissioners, I look forward to the day when Patriarch Antonios is free and Eritreans experience robust religious freedom.