As Religious Freedom Summit Ends, State Department Announces New Alliance and New Sanctions

Vice President Mike Pence addresses delegates at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 2019. Photo by Ralph Alswang/ State Department/Public Domain

Trump administration officials announced a new alliance with U.S. partners focused on religious freedom and new sanctions against foreign military officials supporting countries the U.S. considers to be instigators of religious persecution.

The developments Thursday (July 18) were among the highlights of the last day of the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Foreign ministers also took turns stating ways their nations are working to affirm religious liberty. That followed two days of meetings where survivors shared their stories of persecution and some of the almost 900 religious leaders and activists in attendance made plans to foster interfaith understanding.

Before a gathering of representatives of 106 countries, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced plans to create the International Religious Freedom Alliance.

“We hope that this new vehicle — the first-ever international body devoted to this specific topic – will build on efforts to date and bring like-minded countries together to confront challenges of international religious freedom,” he said. “It will provide a space for the work that we do here to flourish throughout the year.”


Vice President Mike Pence addresses delegates at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 2019. Photo by Ralph Alswang/ State Department/Public Domain

Vice President Mike Pence, speaking later in the day, announced that the U.S. had placed sanctions on two leaders of Iranian-backed militias, groups he said have “terrorized the people of the Nineveh Plain,” a region of northern Iraq where religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, are persecuted.

“The United States stands with all victims of religious persecution and the American people have them in our hearts — and in our prayers,” said Pence.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, participates
in a pull- aside meeting with survivors of religious
persecution during the Ministerial to Advance Religious
Freedom at the U.S. Department of State in Washington,
D.C., on July 18, 2019. Photo by Michael Gross/State
Department/Public Domain

Earlier in the week, the administration placed designations on several military officials in Myanmar, preventing them from entering the United States due to what the State Department said was their involvement in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority with some 700,000 members who have been forced into refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.

President Trump also met with a couple dozen survivors of religious violence in the Oval Office on Wednesday.

Over the course of the three days, speakers hailed religious freedom victories that had occurred since the first ministerial a year ago. That included the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical detained in Turkey for two years.

During a Thursday luncheon for heads of delegations, he prayed for those gathered, saying, “I bless you in the name of my king, Jesus Christ.”

Earlier in the week, summit attendees heard the story of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was acquitted of blasphemy.

Many of the survivors of religious violence who spoke at the summit reminded attendees of those who remain persecuted for their faith across the world.

“I want you all to know that there are 200 more Asia Bibis in jail accused of the blasphemy law in Pakistan today,” said Shaan Taseer, the son of a Pakistani governor who was killed for supporting Bibi and for urging eradication of  Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. “And these are only the reported cases.”

Taseer, who lives in Canada, asked Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, sitting in the front row during Taseer’s remarks, to bring up the plight of those jailed for blasphemy during the upcoming White House visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

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Source: Religion News Service