NEW YORK—U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback blasted China’s wide-reaching suppression of religious freedom on Sept. 23, calling it a “war on faith.”
“They are conducting a war on faith. It’s a war that they will not win,” Brownback said during a State Department briefing on a new initiative to promote international religious freedom.
The persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim-practicing minorities in China’s far northwestern region of Xinjiang have alarmed human rights groups over the past year. Analysts, researchers, and U.S. officials believe that as many as 1 million Xinjiang residents are held inside internment camps because of their faith.
Brownback said that Xinjiang is but one part of China’s sweeping campaign against religions.
The Chinese regime only allows religions to exist if they integrate Party doctrine into their religious beliefs. Religious groups that wish to remain free of state control are severely persecuted, such as house Christians who do not attend state-sanctioned churches.
“Unfortunately it’s not just the Uyghurs, it’s also the Tibetan Buddhists, which you’ve heard, its Falun Gong, the organ harvesting issue that China still would not come forth about, it’s house churches,” Brownback said.
Falun Gong, an ancient Chinese spiritual discipline with moral teachings based on truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, became popular in the 1990s and drew an estimated following of 70 million to 100 million by 1999. The atheist Chinese regime deemed its popularity a threat and in July 1999, launched a nationwide campaign to eradicate the practice.
An independent tribunal convened in London in June concluded that the Chinese regime has engaged in the state-sanctioned practice of extracting organs from bodies of prisoners of conscience and selling them for profit en masse “on a significant scale,” with Falun Gong adherents likely being the main source of organs.
A number of prominent dissidents also spoke at the press event, including Tibetan activist Nyima Lhamo and Uyghur human rights advocate Jewher Ilham.
“One thing I have learned after coming to the West … is that suffering is not just our family alone or my community alone,” Lhamo told the audience through a translator. “Religious freedom is being violated all over the world.”
Lhamo, a 29-year-old who fled Tibet after her uncle’s death in a Chinese prison, made a plea for the international community to unite together to defend religious liberty. She apologized for being “a little bit emotional” while choking back her tears.
Ilham, who graduated from Indiana University, has been working to free her father, a Beijing-based Uyghur scholar who is currently serving a life sentence on separatism charges. She said that she wanted to draw attention to the plight of her people, calling it a “humanitarian crisis.”
She urged world governments to work together to allow all religious dissidents in China to “practice their religion, or to speak the language they want to speak, dress the way they want to dress, eat the food they want to eat, behave the way they want to behave, freely.”
Brownback stressed that the U.S. administration has made protecting international religious freedom a top priority, noting that President Donald Trump earlier on Monday held the first-ever president-led event on religious freedom at the United Nations General Assembly.
When asked by journalists whether he has confronted Chinese officials on human rights abuses in China, Brownback said he has asked about the plight of Uyghurs on several occasions.
“I asked them, if they are education facilities, what about all the people’s names that I have that was missing, will you help me find them, will you tell me where they are, and I’ve gotten no response,” Brownback said, adding that Chinese officials have repeatedly denied that the detention facilities were internment camps.