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US Federal Commission: 16 Countries Suppress Religious Freedom


Rohingya refugees Hafez Sayed Alam and Faizul Karim (rear) pray inside Masjid Umar Bin Khattab mosque at Kutupalong refugee camp April 2, 2019. (Hai Do/VOA)
US Federal Commission: 16 Countries Suppress Religious Freedom
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The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its yearly report this week. The report identifies 16 nations as “countries of particular concern” for their “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations” of religious freedom.

The commission is part of the U.S. federal government, but operates independently. It serves as a watchdog group and offers advice to President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Congress.

Tenzin Dorjee is head of the commission. He said that in the past year, "severe violations of religious freedom” have increased. He pointed to the jailing of individuals accused of blasphemy in several countries. He also noted the detention of over one million Uyghur Muslims in China.

Dorjee wrote that people working for religious freedom must work to “make this right a reality for everyone, everywhere."

Thirteen of the 16 countries named as the worst religious freedom violators are in Asia. They include China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The six others are Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The report also accuses three African nations -- Central African Republic, Eritrea and Nigeria -- of suppressing religious freedom.

FILE PHOTO: Residents at the Kashgar city vocational educational training centre attend a Chinese lesson during a government organised visit in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Residents at the Kashgar city vocational educational training centre attend a Chinese lesson during a government organised visit in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard/File Photo

China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims

The commission condemned China for its treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority. They live mainly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The estimated 15 million Uyghurs in China have long accused the government of oppression.

The report said that the “government continued to persecute all faiths" in an effort to make them behave more “Chinese.” It said that China has "a campaign” to destroy not only the independent exercise of religion, but also the culture and language of smaller religious and ethnic minorities.

The report said that Uyghur Muslims are always being watched and have their telephones taken or scanned by the government. It also said their children are not permitted to attend religious services.

It added that the government has “ripped entire families apart” by imprisoning between 800,000 and 2 million Uyghurs in camps and sending their children to orphanages.

"Families cannot contact one another” because of fear that the government is listening, so many Uyghur Muslims have no idea where their families are or if they are alive," the report said.

The commission said that while the United States and a few foreign governments have condemned China for these "egregious abuses," the government has not faced any consequences.

After years of increasing abuse, “the international community has tragically missed the (chance) to prevent what is now happening to Uyghur and other Muslims in China," it said.

China has denied that it has internment camps and reeducation centers for Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other mostly Muslim groups in Xinjiang.

Kazakhs are the second-largest ethnic group in Xinjiang after Uyghurs. Xinjiang is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans.

The government says the camps are "vocational education centers" aimed at helping people stay away from terrorism. It says their goal is to help Uyghurs “reintegrate” into society.

The report also accused China of oppressing Tibetan Buddhists in addition to the Uyghurs and others.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Voice of America and Radio Free Europe reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

egregiousadj. shocking; extremely bad

watchdog – n. a person or group whose job is to observe the actions of others

blasphemy n. the act of showing disrespect to God

persecute – v. oppress or mistreat; torture

scanv. to examine or study all parts of something carefully

orphanagen. a home for the care and education of children who have lost both parents

consequence – n. a result of effect of something

vocationn. a trade or career

reintegrate – v. the action of returning someone to society

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