U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at the release of the State Department’s annual report on global religious freedom on June 21, sternly reprimanded China for committing “staggering religious abuses.”
He warned that governments that persecute religious believers shouldn’t be able to get away with such actions without consequences. Pompeo especially pointed to atrocities being committed in China against religious groups of all sorts.
“The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding,” Pompeo said during a June 21 press conference.
“In China, the intense persecution of many faiths—Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhism among them—is the norm,” Pompeo said, adding that the department decided to add a special subsection in the China section to document human rights abuses of Islam-practicing minority groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The United Nations estimates that more than 1 million Uyghurs and other minorities are currently being detained inside concentration camps where they are forced to renounce their faith.
Individuals there won’t be able to tell their stories otherwise.
“History will not be silent about these abuses—but only if voices of liberty like ours record it,” Pompeo said.
His comments were also a rare instance of a top U.S. official publicly calling out China for its ongoing persecution of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline for mind and body improvement that’s based on the moral teachings of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Adherents have been severely persecuted since 1999, with hundreds of thousands being thrown into prison, brainwashing centers, labor camps, and other detention facilities, where they are often tortured.
Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, also specifically condemned the atrocity of forced organ harvesting, a state-sanctioned practice by which hospitals amass profits by killing prisoners of conscience and selling fresh organs for transplant surgery.
A recent ruling by an independent people’s tribunal in London found substantial evidence that forced organ harvesting has taken place in China for years “on a significant scale,” and that Falun Gong practitioners were likely the principal source of organs.
The new report pointed out that although freedom of belief is enshrined in China’s constitution, the scope for the protection of such rights isn’t defined, freeing the Chinese communist regime to outlaw religious activities and restrict believers’ rights when they are perceived as a threat to the Party’s control.
“The Party demands that it alone be called God,” Pompeo said.
In China, only five religious organizations have state approval to officially hold worship services under strict Party control, forcing many who refuse to conform with the Party ideology to go underground.
U.S. officials, as well as international NGOs, have repeatedly expressed concerns over China’s crackdown against 200 million religious believers in the country.
In Xinjiang, for example, residents are confined in concentration camps “designed to strip away the culture, identity, and faith,” Brownback said at the press conference. The Chinese regime has sought to break Muslims’ faith by forcing detainees to eat pork and forbid their fasting during Ramadan.
The Chinese regime has employed a massive network of advanced surveillance cameras that tracks residents’ every movement in real time.
In Tibet, communist red flags, as well as portraits of communist leaders, are displayed prominently in Buddhist monasteries. Over the past decade, more than 150 Tibetans have set themselves on fire as a public protest against authorities’ trampling on their religious practices and culture, according to the report.
Meanwhile, members of underground Christian churches face the threat of constant arrests and forced demolition. Authorities also require Christian churches to install surveillance cameras and have forced house church members to sign papers to surrender their faith.
“China has declared war on faith,” Brownback said.
Falun Gong, first introduced in China in 1992, grew to a following of 70 million to 100 million in China by 1999, according to official estimates at the time. Beijing saw its popularity as a threat and began a decades-long persecution that has seen at least thousands of adherents killed for their faith.
As for organ harvesting, a 2016 report by three investigators—Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ethan Gutmann, former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour, and human rights lawyer David Matas—offered a conservative estimate, based on hospital data, that 60,000 to 90,000 transplant operations take place in the country each year, far exceeding the Chinese regime’s stated numbers, based on its voluntary donation system.
“This [organ harvesting] should shock everyone’s conscience,” Brownback said.
Brownback and Pompeo both said that it’s more pertinent than ever to promote and protect religious freedom.
“We will not stop until the iron curtain of religious freedom comes down, until governments no longer detain and torture people for simply being of a particular faith or associated with it,” Brownback said.
Pompeo added that the Trump administration will make promoting religious freedom a “top foreign policy agenda” and continue to be the vanguard for international religious rights.
“For all those that run roughshod over religious freedoms, I’ll say this: The United States is watching and you will be held to account,” he said.
“It’s a distinctly American responsibility to stand up for faith in every nation’s public square,” Pompeo added.