US Ambassador Calls on Countries to Release Religious Prisoners Amid Pandemic

April 3, 2020 Updated: April 3, 2020

The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom called on governments to release their religious prisoners amid the current pandemic. One of the countries singled out by the ambassador was China.

“It’s a good public health move for their nations, and it’s morally obviously the right thing to do. We unfortunately have a number of religious prisoners around the world in various countries that are being held,” ambassador Sam Brownback said during a briefing on April 2.

He explained that COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus, could easily spread in prisons given the tight space. The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus as the CCP virus because the Party’s coverup and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.

Brownback called on several countries to release their religious prisoners, including Iran, Vietnam, Russia, Eritrea, and China.

“China continues to have a number of people imprisoned for their faith,” Brownback said, pointing to Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang; believers of Protestant, Catholic, and house churches; Tibetan Buddhists; and Falun Gong adherents.

“Those [in China] should all be released in this time of pandemic,” he said.

Brownback also urged governments to ensure religious minorities receive medical aid should they be impacted by the virus.

“We’ve seen a situation in several countries where oftentimes a religious minority is excluded from the public health need and distribution in nations, and we’re calling on all nations to distribute this at this time of pandemic to all communities regardless of religious affiliation or otherwise,” he said.

He also urged governments not to blame religious minorities as the source of the virus, though he did not name specific examples.

“We are seeing that sort of blame game getting started up in different places around the world, and we hope it gets pushed back aggressively by those host governments,” Brownback said.

On April 2, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) also joined in the call for Falun Gong adherents imprisoned in China to be freed.

In a tweet, the CECC explained that it was the first anniversary of eight Falun Gong adherents, being sentenced for up to 10 years because of their faith.

“Falun Gong practitioners continue to face arrests & torture in #China,” CECC stated, before adding “#SunZhifen & other detained #FalunGong practitioners should be released immediately & unconditionally.”  Sun and others’ whereabouts are unknown.

Falun Gong

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient spiritual practice with meditative exercises and moral teachings based on three principles, truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The practice was enormously popular in China; by the late 1990s, there were about 70 million to 100 million adherents, according to official estimates.

However, former Party leader Jiang Zemin viewed the practice’s popularity as a threat to his rule and launched nationwide persecution beginning on July 20, 1999. Since then, the Chinese regime has thrown hundreds of thousands of adherents into prisons, labor camps, brainwashing centers, psychiatric wards, and other detention facilities, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.

China’s persecution against Falun Gong adherents has continued amid the global pandemic.

According to Minghui.org, a website that monitors the persecution of Falun Gong in China, the Chinese regime arrested 282 adherents, illegally sentenced 15 and harassed 113 in February alone.

Harassment typically is in the form of authorities ransacking practitioners’ homes or pressuring them to sign official documents promising to give up their faith.

That same month, at least six adherents, five of whom residents in northern China’s Liaoning province, died due to the regime’s persecution, according to Minghui.org.

On March 8, Zou Liming, 66, a resident of Panjin city in Liaoning, died inside a prison in Dalian, another city in the same province. According to Minghui.org, the prison refused to explain to Zhao’s family why he fell into a coma on Feb. 7, after sending him to a local hospital for resuscitation.

Zou was detained at a prison in Liaoning’s Jinzhou city in September 2019, then transferred to the Dalian prison in November.

Since late January, the Chinese regime has called on citizens to participate in volunteer duties to combat the CCP virus. Minghui.org reported an instance in March, when some volunteers decided to report on Falun Gong adherents.

On March 16, Tang Huanxiang and Tang Shuhua, residents of Tianmen city in Hubei province—the region hardest-hit by the virus—were taken to a local police station after some volunteers tipped off the police. The volunteers spotted the two Falun Gong practitioners passing out flyers about the Chinese regime’s persecution.

They were held overnight at a police station in Zaoshi, a county in Tianmen. Police searched their homes. They were released at about 4 p.m. the following day.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer