Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The U.S. religious freedom ambassador has warned against governments using the pandemic to crack down on religious minorities, in remarks on Friday during the United Nations General Assembly.
Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, spoke at an online event “Answering the Call to Protect Religious Freedom” event, held during the 2020 UN General Assembly.
In a review of the developments of global religious freedom in the past year, Brownback noted that the U.S. has “urged governments to make sure members of religious minority groups are not discriminated against during the pandemic,” whether through scapegoating of minority groups for the spread of the virus or unnecessary restrictions on their access to worship.
He also stated his concern of the increased use of technology to restrict religious freedom.
In March, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a fact-sheet on concerns about religious freedom during the pandemic, and Brownback in April called for the release of religious prisoners during the pandemic.
The International Religious Freedom Alliance, announced by the U.S. in 2019, now has 31 member countries and has been renamed the “International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance,” Brownback said on Friday.
There are “still way too many instances where the right to freedom of religion or belief is violated around the world,” adding that “our focus will be to urge all countries to prioritize this issue.”
The abuses committed against Rohingya Muslims in Burma, and the mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang Province, China, were of particular focus on Friday.
“It is time for the international community to act, and it is time for us to push back. And both of these communities are being violated and persecuted,” Brownback said, “I believe in major part because of their faith.”
Zuba Murat, Uyghur-American advocate, spoke of the “escalating, terrible persecution” of Uyghurs by Chinese authorities since 2017.
“All of the normal practices of our religions are outlawed,” she said. Her mother, a retired medical doctor, “as of now has been in a concentration camp for the past two years,” with the family kept shut off from knowledge of her condition.
“Uyghurs are facing mental and physical torture, food and sleep deprivation,” as well as rape and forced sterilization, abortion, and birth control, she said.
“In any dialogue with China moving forward, these missing Uyghurs should be central to every conversation,” she said.
Brownback also brought up the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and the importance of governments respecting religious freedom during the pandemic.
Another development in the past year was Secretary of State Pompeo removing Uzbekistan and Sudan removed from the “countries of particular concern” list, due to an improved situation for religious rights, Brownback said.
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