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China’s repression could spread, ERLC panel warns

WASHINGTON (BP) — The Chinese government’s repression of Uyghur Muslims is a foretaste of the world’s future if there is not a change, human rights advocates warned Aug. 21 in a Southern Baptist-sponsored panel discussion.

Sam Brownback, the U.S. State Department’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom, and other panelists told a webinar audience hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) the systematic oppression used against an ethnic minority group in western China threatens to spread to other parts of the globe.

The suppression of the Uyghur Muslims — which includes the imprisonment of more than a million people in “re-education” or concentration camps – disturbs him, but he also is concerned it will be duplicated by “authoritarian regimes around the world,” Brownback said. “We’ve got this huge battle going on between democracy and dictatorships, and dictatorships have been doing pretty well lately, unfortunately.”

It is important for the United States and others to take a stand, because China’s system of repression of the Uyghurs is “the future of oppression, the future of religious oppression,” he said. The Uyghurs are suppressed by a system in which they cannot buy or sell if they practice their faith, “and that is a threat to all of us,” he said.

“It’s the future of the world if we don’t stop this.”

Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur and the executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs, told those watching, “This tragedy of the Uyghur people will be the future of the entire world if [it] is not addressed, and if we don’t take action.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tracks Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region by means of a high-tech surveillance system that has obtained genetic data on many residents. Activity considered suspicious by CCP officials can result in detention in the camps, which have served as prisons to an estimated 1-3 million people. Life in the camps can result in indoctrination, as well as rape, torture and coercive organ harvesting. Uyghur women are also at the mercy of a population control program of forced abortions and sterilizations.

The CCP is “a regime that wants to make itself not just a global power and not just something that’s keeping its own people in line,” ERLC President Russell Moore said. “It wants to make itself into a god.”

That is the reason the Chinese government opposes a minority that says there is “an allegiance higher than the state itself,” he said.

The CCP – which has long oppressed Christians and other religious groups – has declared a need to rewrite the Bible and the Koran “to be compatible with Communist, atheistic ideology,” Abbas said.

The Chinese regime has “very high ambitions toward evil ends here,” Moore told the webinar audience. “I think they not only want to squash dissent. They want to make sure they completely squash even the potential of dissent, because what they want to do is to see to it that every conscience is silenced pre-emptively through intimidation of other groups”

Abbas’ sister disappeared two years ago from Urumqi, China, in what Abbas sees as “clear retaliation” for her advocacy in the United States for Uyghurs, she said. Inquiries about her sister’s well-being have gone unanswered. “[M]y story is just one of millions,” she said.

Sanctions like those imposed recently on Chinese officials and organizations are important, Brownback said. The best tool in influencing China is “economic power,” he told the audience.

President Trump signed into law in June the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which calls for the administration to impose economic sanctions and visa bans on Chinese authorities who are responsible for the oppression of Uyghur and other Muslims. In July, the Department of Treasury announced two sets of sanctions on senior Chinese officials and entities under a federal law known as the Global Magnitsky Act.

Panelists explained how the audience should respond to China’s persecution of the Uyghurs.

The CCP and other authoritarian regimes rely on the belief “the world will be bullied and intimidated into silence because of the power and the wealth of a China,” Moore said. As Christians, “we ought to be the people who recognize there are things greater than power and money. The image of God and the humanity of our fellow human beings, these things are more important than that.”

Panelists urged the audience to take action in response to China’s forced labor imposed on the Uyghurs, especially in the cotton industry of Xinjiang.

Nury Turkel – a Uyghur, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and co-founder of the Uyghur Human Rights Project – called for Americans to perform “due diligence” and refuse to purchase cotton or textile products made in China. The world supply chain has been “polluted by the Chinese,” he said.

Turkel also called for congressional passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bars products made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from being introduced into the U.S. market. The ERLC has endorsed the legislation.

Other actions the panelists recommended included:

— Congregations praying together by name for Uyghur Muslims and other oppressed people;

— Contacting government representatives to ask them to hold China accountable;

— Starting local religious freedom roundtables;

— Organizing student groups on campuses.

Abbas and Turkel expressed their disappointment at the lack of concern from such sectors as business, Hollywood and the mainstream media. The Uyghur people are “facing extermination while the conscience and dignity of humanity is being tested,” Abbas said.

Messengers to the 2019 SBC meeting passed a resolution condemning the CCP, as well as North Korea’s regime, for “extreme religious persecution and flagrant human rights violations.”

Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy, moderated the webinar, which is available for viewing here.