CINCINNATI – Global religious persecution watchdog Open Doors USA is calling on the United States government to fight the persecution and mistreatment of Christians and other religious minorities in countries like China, India, and North Korea.
“Friends don’t let friends commit human rights abuses,” Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry told reporters at an event in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday that introduced the non-profit’s newly released report on religious persecution.
Curry urged government officials to carefully consider his organization’s “World Watch List 2020,” an annual report that ranks countries on data pertaining to the religious persecution of Christians, and cross reference that list with the countries with whom the United States is currently doing business.
On the same day that the United States announced the signing of phase one of a trade deal with China, Curry argued that China has been building a “blueprint for persecution” that threatens the rights of the country’s estimated 97 million Christians, as well as other religious groups like the Uyghur Muslims.
Central to this persecution blueprint, according to Curry, is a developing system that sounds as though it belongs in an episode of Black Mirror. Curry alleges that China is in the process of marrying its more than 415 million surveillance cameras with facial scanning technologies and a new Social Credit System that penalizes regular church attendance.
According to Open Doors USA’s new report, concerns about persecution “taking a technological turn” also extend to India, where the government is planning to implement a national facial recognition system.
The non-profit cites 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians in India during the reporting period for its 2020 report and warns that the new tracking system could lead to increased attacks.
China and India were ranked 23 and 10, respectively, on the “World Watch List 2020.” North Korea received the number 1 spot for the 18th consecutive year as the hardest place in the world to be a Christian.
The report alleges that “if North Korean Christians are discovered, they are deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot.”
During Wednesday’s event, Curry reiterated the report’s assessment that recent diplomatic activity with North Korea has not led to a lessening of persecution for Christians and warned that North Korea should not be permitted to join the global community until human rights are addressed.
Several representatives from various levels of the United States government joined Curry at Wednesday’s event to show their support for Open Doors USA’s work. Congressman Robert Aderholt explained that many members of Congress read the “World Watch List” each year so that they can bring up the persecution of Christians when they meet with various ambassadors.
Aderholt also noted that he would be meeting with Vice President Pence later that afternoon and pledged to mention the report to the Vice President.
Robert Destro, Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, expressed his support for Open Doors USA as he delivered the opening address on Wednesday.
Destro, a law professor at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law, has been in the role following a successful Senate confirmation in September 2019.
“Religious freedom is a theme in virtually every issue that comes across my desk,” Destro said. Ending religious persecution is “not a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or humanist concern… it’s a human concern,” he continued.
The “World Watch List 2020” cites several other troubling trends. For example, according to the report, “Christianity is on the verge of disappearing in Iraq and Syria,” with the total number of Christians in Iraq falling from 1.5 million in 2003 to just 202,000 today.
The report also warns of spikes in violence against Christians in Africa by militant groups like the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Nigeria and Boko Haram in Cameroon.
While these global trends paint a worsening picture of religious persecution, Curry did highlight some signs of hope in the struggle for religious freedom. Citing Bahrain’s absence from this year’s top 50 as an example of progress, Curry explained that “wherever there’s dialogue, there’s a lag, but then things seem to improve.”
Curry also praised the outcome of the high-profile case of Asia Bibi, a Christian who was freed after spending eight years on death row due to blasphemy charges. Her story provides an important opportunity, according to Curry, to recognize the dangers of blasphemy laws and the vigilante justice that they enable.