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U.S., NBC must combat CCP’s lies, ERLC panelists say

ERLC Acting President Brent Leatherwood (left) talks with Asian expert Michael Sobolik during "Oppression and the Olympics," a webinar during which Sobolik and others addressed the Chinese government's genocide of the Uyghur people.

NASHVILLE (BP) – The United States and NBC must counter the falsehoods of the Chinese Communist Party during the 2022 Winter Olympics that open this week in Beijing, participants in a Southern Baptist-sponsored webinar were told Tuesday (Feb. 1).

Panelists convened by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) addressed on the eve of the Olympics the human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against the Uyghur people and how Christians and others should respond. Some Olympic events began today (Feb. 2), but the opening ceremonies are scheduled Feb. 4.

In recent years, the CCP’s campaign against the Uyghurs, a primarily Muslim group in western China, has included not only forced labor but widespread detention in “re-education” camps and a coercive, population control program of abortion and sterilization. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have designated China’s assault on the Uyghurs as genocide, and the Southern Baptist Convention became the first Christian faith group to denounce it as genocide by vote of the messengers to its annual meeting in June 2021.

Asian expert Michael Sobolik told the online audience China will use ethnic minorities performing in the opening ceremonies “to push a lie – that China is unified, that everyone loves political life under the Chinese Communist Party, and there’s nothing to see here.”

It is important for NBC, which is televising the Olympics, and the U.S. government to tell the truth, said Sobolik, a fellow in Indo-Pacific studies at the American Foreign Policy Council.

The American government needs to be “pushing the truth,” he said. “You need to be the one telling the truth and bearing witness to what is happening. And the jury is out on whether or not that’s going to happen.”

The ERLC called recently for NBC to report on the CCP’s human rights abuses of the Uyghurs during its Olympics coverage. In a Jan. 20 letter, Brent Leatherwood, the ERLC’s acting president, urged the network “to highlight the ongoing human rights abuses and genocide of the Uyghur people happening in China and firmly refuse to broadcast Chinese propaganda.”

Leatherwood, who moderated the webinar, has not received a reply from NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Jeff Shell, according to the ERLC.

Rushan Abbas, executive director of the Campaign for Uyghurs, told webinar viewers to think during the Olympics about the Uyghurs “being held in dark dungeons and concentration camps and also how the government is using this Olympic games to legitimize the genocide and modern day slavery.”

Both Abbas and Nury Turkel, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, encouraged viewers not to watch the telecast of the Olympics.

The reason that choices by media consumers matter “deeply is because viewership translates into money and advertising revenue for these companies,” Sobolik said. “If people do not tune in to watch, that affects the bottom line of the Olympics.”

An individual making such a decision seems insignificant, he acknowledged before saying, “This is an issue that an increasing amount of Americans are becoming aware of and are concerned about.”

Turkel, the first U.S.-educated Uyghur-American lawyer, expressed his gratitude for the SBC’s resolution regarding the CCP’s genocidal campaign.

“This type of love for your neighbors is rare to see,” he said. “[The CCP] has set itself against the very nature of God, human nature and freedom of belief and thought. The Uyghur genocide is the most visible example of this reality played out.

“[T]hese games stand as an abomination in the eyes of God and to everyone with a soul.”

The Biden administration’s diplomatic boycott of the games “is a meaningful symbol in the sense that the American head of state is not granting the prestige and international legitimacy that the Olympics afford the country that hosts them,” Sobolik said. “But a diplomatic boycott is useful if it is approached as a starting point to go beyond and not as the bare minimum of policy.”

The administration could have done more, Sobolik said. While some other countries also have invoked diplomatic boycotts, the United States could have coordinated an effort to build a coalition of governments to do so, he said.

Enactment of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in December was “a massive first step for taking substantive action towards what’s happening with the Uyghurs,” Sobolik told the online audience. The law, a policy priority for the ERLC, prohibits products made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from being introduced into the American market.

Yet, for some American corporations and politicians, “an ongoing genocide is not at the top of their list,” Sobolik said. “We have done quite a bit, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Turkel and Abbas, both Uyghurs, criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its leading corporate sponsors for complicity with China’s oppressive policies.

The IOC “has chosen to affirm” the CCP’s actions against the Uyghurs by failing to relocate or delay this year’s Olympics, Turkel said. The IOC and U.S. Olympic Committee “have repeatedly stated that it’s not their role to solve political issues,” he said.

Abbas expressed her shock that leaders of several IOC corporate sponsors – Coca-Cola, Intel, Visa, Proctor & Gamble and Airbnb – “surrendered their rights to speak against” the CCP during congressional testimony last year. “It was shameful to witness those corporate giant representatives actively choose their profits, their market shares over their own freedom of speech and their conscience,” she said. Only Intel’s representative said he believed the State Department’s conclusion the CCP was committing genocide against the Uyghurs, the Associated Press reported.

The CCP’s oppressive practices in Xinjiang include tracking Uyghur Muslims by means of a high-tech surveillance system that has obtained genetic data on many residents, according to reports. It is estimated more than one million of the 12 million Uyghurs, and maybe as many as three million, have been detained in “re-education” camps. Forced labor by prisoners is common. Life in the camps reportedly can result in indoctrination, as well as rape, torture and coercive organ harvesting. Uyghur women are also at the mercy of forced abortions and sterilizations.

The CCP’s genocidal campaign against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang offers a preview of its long-term ambitions, panelists said.

China is “trying to normalize these kinds of behaviors, and also they are testing the patience of the civilized world,” Turkel said. The CCP is “trying to make it okay to punish collectively vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities,” he said.

To Sobolik, the genocide in Xinjiang “is a test bed not just for the techno-authoritarianism” described by Turkel but “for what a world would look like if the Chinese Communist Party not only has an in to your communications and the way you consume information but the actual governance that you would sit under,” he said. “If this is not abated in any way, we’re heading toward a really dark place.”

According to a 1948 United Nations treaty, genocide is defined as murder and other acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Abbas spoke from Brussels, Belgium, where she was advocating for the Uyghurs at the European Union. Her sister, a retired doctor, was detained in 2018, six days after Abbas took part in a panel at a Washington, D.C., think tank, and the CCP acknowledged in 2020 she had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, Abbas said.

Video of the online event – “Oppression and the Olympics: What Christians Should Know About China’s Human Rights Atrocities” – is available here.