At a bipartisan congressional hearing this week, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) urged the United States and international community to immediately address ongoing and egregious violations of religious liberties around the world—especially the crime of genocide perpetuated by the Chinese Communist Party—and prioritize religious freedom and all fundamental human rights in talks with other nations.
Chaired by Smith, the hearing examined the state of religious freedom around the globe and coincided with this week’s International Religious Freedom Summit, which Smith addressed on Wednesday.
“Religious freedom is under siege all over the world,” said Rep. Smith, co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC).
“The numerous tools at the United States’ disposal must be wielded firmly against individual persecutors, especially the sanctions embedded in the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act and Global Magnitsky Act. Where moral suasion fails, the curtailment of access to countries and markets can incentivize real change.
“And above all, when we engage in bilateral and multilateral conversations with countries, we cannot delink human rights, in particular religious freedom, from economic and security concerns. Our commitment to the fundamental human dignity of our neighbors must remain paramount.”
Entitled “The State of Religious Freedom Around the Globe,” the TLHRC hearing focused especially on four countries that are among the worst violators of religious liberties—Communist China, Nigeria, Iran and Pakistan—where religious freedom is seriously threatened as a result of state repression or state failure to contain non-state actors who persecute others for their religious beliefs.
Smith called special attention to the compelling eyewitness testimony offered by Gulzira Auyelkhan—a Kazakh Muslim from Xinjiang who survived China’s concentration camps—on the use of horrific instruments of torture called “tiger chairs” against Uyghur and Kazakh detainees, as well as the systematic rape of Uyghur women by Chinese authorities.
“When guards punished us by forcing us to sit in the tiger chair, if we fainted because of the pain, they poured cold water on our heads to shock us back to consciousness,” Auyelkhan recounted. “Guards then yelled at us, ‘We are the ones who are tired! How dare you fall asleep?’”
Other key witnesses included Nadine Maenza, Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF); Bob Fu, Founder and President of China Aid; Amjad Khan, National Director of Public Affairs for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; Anthony Vance, Director of Overseas Programs for Bahais of the United States; and Matthew Kukah, Bishop of Sokoto, Nigeria.
USCIRF Chair Maenza stated: “As we gather here today, people all around the world continue to be systematically and violently targeted for their faith, or for their choice to hold no faith at all, by both governments and non-state actors.”
A Chinese refugee himself, Bob Fu testified to the widespread religious persecution perpetrated by the CCP, which remains one of the most egregious violators of religious freedom: “Today, as the world witnesses the worst religious persecution seen in China since Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, the rule of man has replaced the rule of law and rule by law.”
Amjad Mahmood Khan described Pakistan’s state-sponsored religious persecution: “Anti-Ahmadi clerics with close ties to influential Pakistani officials are working in tandem with the Federal Investigation Agency (“FIA”), a government agency tasked with enforcing Pakistan’s newly enacted cyber laws, to target high-ranking Community officials by embroiling them in a web of frivolous cases.”
Anthony Vance noted the surge in religious persecution taking place in Iran: “Of particular concern at this time has been a surge in anti-Bahá’í hate propaganda in state-sponsored media outlets, including online sites as well as television and radio.”
Bishop Kukah emphasized the important role of the international community in promoting religious liberties around the world: “Terrorism requires weak, corrupt and ineffective government structures to thrive, survive and even bloom. The international community must continue to support democracy and help poorer nations to abide by its principles.”
PHOTOS: Smith chairs a TLHRC hearing examining the state of religious freedom around the world on Tuesday, July 14th. The hearing included profound testimony offered by Gulzira Auyelkhan, which Smith highlighted during his remarks at the International Religious Freedom Summit the next day.