State Department on Wins and Losses for Religious Freedom in 2019

Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback speaks at a reception honoring the recipients of the inaugural International Religious Freedom Awards in 2019. State Department photo

WASHINGTON (BP) — International religious freedom experienced both gains and losses in 2019, Trump administration officials said upon the release of the U.S. State Department’s annual report on the issue.

While countries such as Sudan, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Uzbekistan made progress, the persecution of religious adherents persisted in China, Nigeria and other societies, reporters were told Wednesday (June 10) in a news briefing that accompanied publication of the International Religious Freedom Report.

Positive developments occurred in 2019, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said at the briefing, but “there’s also a great darkness over parts of the world where people of faith are persecuted or denied the right to worship.”

Travis Wussow of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) said while “it should grieve us to the core to read the abuses of power documented in this report,” he was grateful for the leadership of Pompeo and Sam Brownback, the United States’ ambassador at large for international religious freedom, in focusing “the attention of the State Department on the issue of international religious freedom.”

“This year’s report documents key details of the atrocities the Chinese Communist Party has committed against its own people,” said Wussow, the ERLC vice president for public policy. “Building on this research, the U.S. must continue to counter China morally, standing against the idea that its way of governing is a legitimate model for other developing countries.”

Regarding China, the report said:

— Government officials closed or destroyed Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish, Taoist and other houses of worship, according to multiple reports.

— The government barred people under 18 years of age from taking part in religious activities.

— Officials in the northwest region of Xinjiang have continued to imprison hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other Muslims, as well as Uighur Christians, in internment camps.

“[S]tate-sponsored repression against all religions continues to intensify” in China, Pompeo told reporters. “The Chinese Communist Party [CCP] is now ordering religious organizations to obey CCP leadership and infuse communist dogma into their teachings and practice of their faith.”

Of Nigeria, the State Department reported:

— The terrorist organizations Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa continued to carry out lethal attacks against Christians and Muslims.

— Clashes between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and mostly Christian farmers persisted, with some Christian organizations saying the Fulani were targeting Christians because of their faith.

In the June 10 briefing, Iran and Nicaragua also were mentioned as countries where religious freedom is under attack.

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Source: Baptist Press