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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Persecuted Need America's Voice
Prominent Human Rights Leader Calls for Prayer and Robust Action Against Religious Intolerance
November 8, 2013
Much has been written of late concerning the global persecution of Christians, and for good reason. More Christians have been martyred in the last century than in all other centuries combined. This year alone, more than 200 million Christians will face persistent oppression because of their faith. Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Central African Republic, amongst many others, play host to violent campaigns of religious cleansing where the perpetrators' only goal is assimilation or eradication. As the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted is upon us, a time when Christians pray for those facing such persecution, it is appropriate to ask, "What is to be done for Christians?"
The United States has a noble, if not always consistent, history of confronting genocide and ethnic cleansing. Humanitarian interventions in Haiti, the former Yugoslavia, and Libya were prompted by a desire to protect an unjustly oppressed population from aggressors, and were all made possible by the key factor of American support. While suggestions of physical intervention in many cases are not feasible, or might rather exacerbate persecution, it is curious that there has little been more than pro forma criticism of this burgeoning human rights tragedy emanating from the State Department or the White House.
Recently, President Obama received Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sahrif at the White House. The official statement indicated that they discussed "a broad range of issues," including cooperation on security issues and drone-use policy. This "broad range of issues," however, was not broad enough to include mention of the severe persecution routinely visited upon Pakistani Christians as a matter of course, most recently and tragically evidenced by the bombing of a church in Peshawar less than one month prior which killed nearly one hundred men, women, and children, and wounded, widowed, and orphaned many more. The almost two billion dollars we give annually to Pakistan gives us significant leverage that could be used to push Pakistan towards meaningful change in its treatment of religious minorities. Unfortunately, it is not.
Kazakhstan is another key American ally, particularly in regional security and energy cooperation. The Obama administration has endorsed Kazakhstan's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the State Department reports that they are working closely with them to achieve that goal. Yet the Kazakh government has an egregious record of religious suppression, most recently evidenced by imprisoning a Protestant pastor, Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, in an insane asylum and charging him under religious extremism and terror charges.
The charges Pastor Kashkumbayev is facing were laws developed in consultation with American diplomats and aid organizations as a measure to combat militant Islam. Yet, these laws are being employed to effectively shut down a Protestant pastor's work and to intimidate and harass the rest of Kazakhstan's Protestants.
Kazakhstan has received over two billion U.S. taxpayer dollars in aid since the nation's inception in 1992, including assistance which promulgated the laws that the Almaty regime now uses to justify the imprisonment of a frail, 65-year-old preacher. It again seems that in the process of "working closely" with the Kazakh government to secure its WTO bid, the State Department might have some clout in calling for the release of Pastor Kashkumbayev.
Of course, there are many, many more examples of religious persecution in countries where the United States has influence. But the State Department's Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, recently resigned after serving for less than seventeen months. She cited a desire to enter the private sector, which might allow her to better provide for her children's education. However, our experience in working with her office substantiated accounts that she and her staff were routinely unable to access persons and resources necessary for her to successfully perform in the role the office requires. Prior to Ambassador Cook's appointment, that office remained vacant for more than two years.
The lack of Administration progress on religious freedom has so concerned the House of Representatives that they have twice passed legislation authorizing a special envoy to deal with the religious cleansing crisis in the Middle East. Last year, the measure died in the Senate after failing to make it out of committee. This year, a renewed resolution passed the House with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority, but as of this writing, languishes in a Senate committee.
President Obama and Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry have a powerful record of human rights advocacy in other areas, particularly in gender equality and LGBTQ rights. Therefore, I decry the lack of similar attention to the proliferation of religious cleansing campaigns, especially in areas where the United States has a strong influence.
The International Day of Prayer for the persecuted is observed in churches around the world from November 3 to November 10. We should use this time not only pray for those suffering persecution for their faith, but also to speak out and demand justice for the persecuted. Our government has the power to make this a priority; we have the power to encourage them to do so. Let us call upon our leaders to use American power and influence to advance a human rights agenda which includes religious freedom as an equal, essential component. Americans should urge President Obama to appoint a new Ambassador for International Religious Freedom with influence and experience commensurate to the challenge, and we should urge our senators to approve the legislation creating the special envoy for religious freedom. So on this day let us pray for the persecuted, and carry their voices to those who have the power to come to their aid.
[Editor's note: Jeff King, President of International Christian Concern (ICC), is an internationally recognized expert on the persecution of minority religious communities and is the author of Islam Uncensored. ICC is located on the web at www.persecution.org.]
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