In Xinjiang, as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities – predominantly Muslims – have been detained in a system of camps where they have reportedly suffered beatings, indoctrination, forced labor, and torture. Uyghur women have been forcibly sterilized in what is reportedly a mass campaign of reducing the Uyghur birth rate.
Daniel Nadel, of the State Department’s international religious freedom office, said on Wednesday that authorities are working “to basically turn the entire region into an open-air prison” by tracking peoples’ movements.
Regarding the Vatican-China deal, the State Department report noted, “Critics stated the agreement did not alleviate government pressure on Catholic clergy to join the state-sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).”
Brownback opined that the Vatican could have made the same mistake that the United States made in opening up trade with China.
“I want to say that they were kind of stuck in the mentality that a bunch of us got into in the U.S. when we first did the permanent most-favored-nation [trade] status with China 20 years ago,” Brownback said. During the 1990s, the China was allowed into the World Trade Organization. The move – which Brownback said he supported at the time as a U.S. senator – was done with the hope that China would become more democratic.
“It didn’t work,” Brownback told CNA. “It didn’t work for us, the West, in our negotiation with China, and I don’t think it’s going to work with the Vatican."
The religious freedom report, first mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, reviews the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories around the world. It also documents actions by civil society and foreign governments on promoting religious freedom or persecuting religious minorities.
On the release of the report on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that, according to the Pew Research Center, 56 countries have “high” or “severe” restrictions on religious freedom.
He noted that Iran is intimidating and arresting minorities including Jews, Bahais, Zoroastrians, and Christians. Blinken cited “ethnic cleansing” and other atrocities in Burma. Russian authorities have harassed, detained, and seized the property of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Furthermore, anti-Semitism on the rise in the United States and Europe, he warned.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal commission that makes recommendations to the State Department, applauded the release of the report on Wednesday.
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Commission chair Anurima Bhargava called it “a valuable tool to hold countries accountable for persecution and violence, as well as to support needed change."
The State Department is required by law to list CPCs no later than 180 days after the report.
“We look forward to the timely designations of the world’s worst violators later this year,” said USCIRF vice chair Tony Perkins.
Blinken said that religious freedom “is co-equal with other human rights” – a departure from the previous administration, where an advisory body on human rights called religious freedom “foremost” among human rights.
“Religious freedom is a human right; in fact, it goes to the heart of what it means to be human,” Blinken said, calling it “co-equal with other human rights because human rights are indivisible.”
“Religious freedom can’t be fully realized unless other human rights are respected, and when governments violate their people’s right to believe and worship freely, it jeopardizes all the others,” he said.