US Statement on Religious Freedom – OSCE / ODIHR in Warsaw (Annual Meeting, 2018)

Working Session 7: Fundamental freedoms 1, including: Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief

Pastor Andrew Brunson (center), who has been under house arresting Turkey since July following his prolonged and unjust detention on baseless terrorism charges.

As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Sam BrownbackAmbassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,
Warsaw, September 13, 2018

Promoting and defending international religious freedom is a fundamental issue for the United States. This July, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo hosted the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Following the Ministerial, the United States issued the Potomac Declaration and the Potomac Plan of Action. The Declaration reaffirms the fundamental freedom of religion or belief. The Plan of Action provides concrete ways to defend it. Separately, we thank Armenia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Lithuania, Poland, and the United Kingdom for signing on to one or more of the statements of concern issued at the Ministerial, including on “Counterterrorism as a False Pretext for Religious Freedom Repression,” “Religious Freedom Repression by Non-State Actors, including Terrorist Groups,” and “Blasphemy/Apostasy Laws.” The statements remain open for endorsement, and we invite all countries to join.

During the Ministerial, the United States highlighted one country for its recent progress: Uzbekistan. President Mirziyoyev and his government have taken significant positive steps including: easing registration requirements for religious organizations; registering the Presbyterian church “Light of the World”; permitting children to attend mosques; removing 23,000 names from a list of so-called “extremists”; releasing hundreds of prisoners held for their religious beliefs; and passing a “road map” to implement the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Uzbekistan has more to do to institutionalize these reforms and protect religious freedom for all, consistent with Uzbekistan’s international obligations and commitments. We encourage Uzbekistan to work with the OSCE, the UN Special Rapporteur for Religion or Belief, and other international experts as it drafts new laws and pursues new policies. We urge the government to release the remaining prisoners arrested for practicing their religion. We also urge authorities to cease violating the rights of individuals to freely and peacefully gather and express their religious views publicly. The government should continue to honor its public statements to register peaceful religious congregations without a cumbersome, multi-tier bureaucratic practice.

Unfortunately, a number of OSCE participating states are not taking actions to promote religious freedom; instead they are violating this human right. The Russian Federation continues to cloak its restrictive laws and legal rulings in trappings of combating so-called “extremism”. Russian law enforcement agencies have escalated targeted raids, detentions, arrests, criminal prosecutions, and imprisonments of Jehovah’s Witnesses on absurd “extremism” grounds. Other members of peaceful religious groups, including some Muslims, have similarly been targeted as “extremists.” According to credible NGO accounts, Russia currently imprisons over 130 people for their peaceful religious practice.

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OSCE / HDIM Warsaw: Russia’s Persecution of the Jehovah Witnesses – Joined Statement by HRWF & FOREF Europe

Russia’s ongoing Persecution of the Jehovah Witnesses

Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers delivers a joint statement by HRWF & FOREF Europe on the Persecution of Jehovahs Witnesses in Russia


Joined Statement by HRWF & FOREF Europe at the OSCE / Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Warsaw, 13.09.2018


In the Russian Federation, peaceful and law-abiding Jehovah’s Witnesses are being violently detained by security forces who physically and verbally ill-treat them as if they are terrorists based on the government’s assertion that their books and teachings “undermine confidence in Christian teachings.” They are treated as violent, dangerous criminals, as members of an “extremist” organization.

We know of 54 prosecutions under Administrative Code Article 20.29 in 2017, resulting in 49 convictions, and the confiscation and destruction of literature. We know of 23 members of the faith who are incarcerated, all based on an April 2017 Supreme Court Ruling that banned all Jehovah’s Witness groups.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are under surveillance by wiretapping and videotaping.

More than 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses have asked for asylum in Finland, fleeing police raids, criminal prosecution, and beatings.

Russia’s Presidential Council on Human Rights has questioned the legality and validity of the criminal prosecutions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, stating that “There is a clear contradiction between the stated position of the Government of the Russian Federation and law enforcement practice. This is a cause for concern, as criminal prosecutions and arrests have become endemic.”

Denials by the Government of the Russian Federation in response to concerns raised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights, to the effect that there is no threat to freedom of religion posed by the Supreme Court Ruling and by the follow-up practices to which we have referred, lack credulity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation are being arrested, detained and prosecuted because of their beliefs.

The legalistic denials are simply evidence of a profound contempt for international human rights law and for those institutions. And we are sorry to observe that the Russian Federation is also demonstrating its contempt for political commitments undertaken here, in the OSCE. The persecution of an entire religious community by a participating State is unique in the history of the Helsinki Process. It sets a terrifying precedent as evidence of the failure of this organization to protect human rights.


Like all of the main independent Russian human rights organizations, some of which were brutally persecuted by the Soviet Union but have illuminated principles that should inform civil society human rights activity, we demand that the Russian Federation:

  • put an end to the prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses;
  • release from custody of all charged with extremism under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code;
  • overturn the Supreme court ruling prohibiting the activity of Jehovah’s Witness organizations.

We urge all participating States to make the same points and to back them up with bilateral policies that make clear that no democratic state that truly honors human rights can have a normal relationship with the Russian Federation as long as its persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses persists.

Thank you.

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Stop the Persecution of Chinese Refugees in South Korea

Stop the Persecution of Chinese Refugees of The Church of Almighty God in South Korea

Heavily persecuted in China, with many documented cases of torture and extra-judicial killings, hundreds of members of The Church of Almighty God have escaped to South Korea, where they are seeking refugee status. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is pursuing them also in Korea. It has coerced or persuaded with threats their relatives to go to Korea and ask that the refugees “return home,” i.e. go back to China where they would not go “home” but to jail, and is staging false “spontaneous demonstrations” with the help of local organizations against the “cults.”

It is a scandal that for the CCP persecuting religious dissidents in China is not enough. They are pursued even in the countries where they have escaped, with the help of misguided “anti-cultists” and pro-Chinese sympathizers.

We ask the Chinese authorities to immediately stop this campaign of hate against harmless refugees, and the Korean authorities to grant asylum to the believers of The Church of Almighty God who, should they return to China, would face arrest, detention, and probable torture.

August 31, 2018

CAP-LC Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience

CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions

EIFRF European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom

FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief

FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe

HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers

LIREC – Center for Studies on Freedom of Belief, Religion and Conscience

ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees

Soteria International

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Do Not Forget Religious Liberty – Open Letter to Giovanni Tria

An Open Letter to the Italian Minister of Economy, Mr. Giovanni Tria. While Discussing Economy with China, Do Not Forget Religious Liberty

Italian Minister of Economy, Mr. Giovanni Tria

Dear Mr. Tria:

We wish you a fruitful visit to China on behalf of Italian economic interests.

Last July, Italy was an official participant in the Washington D.C. “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom”. There, 82 countries solemnly agreed that religious liberty should be regarded as a non-negotiable cornerstone of international relations.

We hope that the good economic relationships between China and Italy may help you in raising with your Chinese counterparts the matter of the gross violations of religious liberty in China, which became even worse with the new laws on religion that came into force in 2018.

Reliable academic sources report that one and a half million Chinese are detained in “transformation through education” camps because of their religious beliefs. They include Uyghur and non-Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians of several denominations, and members of new religious movements banned as “heterodox teachings” (xie jiao) and continuously defamed through fake news campaigns, including The Church of Almighty God and Falun Gong. Several NGOs documented numerous instances of mass arrests, extra-judicial killings, and torture. Even in the government-controlled religious communities, religion is treated in the same way as pornography, since it is entirely forbidden to minors, who are not even allowed to enter places of worship.

Laudably, Italy is a leading country in defending religious liberty internationally. We trust that your visit to China will be an opportunity to reiterate this position.

  • CAP-LC Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience
  • CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions
  • EIFRF – European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom
  • FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief
  • FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe
  • HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers
  • LIREC – Center for Studies on Freedom of Belief, Religion and Conscience
  • ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Freedom of Refugees Soteria International

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DEUTSCHLAND / CHINA: Appell an Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel

Eilappell an Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel

Fr. Zhao, Mitglied der Kirche  des Allmächtigen Gottes, würde verhaftet werden und “verschwinden” wenn sie zurück nach China deportiert wird

Sehr geehrte Frau Bundeskanzlerin Merkel,

Wir sind NGOs, die sich auf dem Gebiet der Religionsfreiheit engagieren und schreiben Ihnen, wegen der prekären Lage der chinesischen Flüchtlingsfrau Zhao, die zur Zeit in der Aufsichts- und Dienstleistungsdirektion Landeseinrichtung für Asylbegehrende und Ausreisepflichtige in Ingelheim festgehalten wird, nachdem sie sich am 9. Juli gewaltsam ihrer Rückführung nach China widersetzt hat.

Wir bitten Sie dringend zu berücksichtigen, dass Frau Zhao, wenn sie nach China zurückgebracht wird, mit Sicherheit verhaftet wird und Gefahr läuft, gefoltert zu werden oder in der Haft zu verschwinden.

Frau Zhao ist Mitglied der Kirche des Allmächtigen Gottes (KAG), die auch als Eastern Lightning bekannt ist. Es handelt sich dabei um eine neue christlich-religiöse Bewegung in China, die 1991 gegründet wurde und deren Kernaussage darin besteht, dass Jesus als Inkarnation des Allmächtigen Gottes zur Erde zurückgekehrt ist, und zwar in Gestalt einer chinesischen Frau, welche die Kirche aktuell von den USA aus leitet und führt. Continue reading

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Denial of Religious Freedom in China Threatens Idea of Freedom Itself

As a human rights activist, I consider the denial of religious freedom, including the persecution of members of the Church of Almighty God, and the denial of other fundamental human rights in China as paramount problems in the world today. These problems have vast implications not only for individual freedom, but for the idea of freedom itself.

First, these problems affect so many millions of our brothers and sisters. China has a population of over 1.4 billion people. That’s more than the total population of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Western Europe combined.

The mind-boggling numbers translate into huge numbers of victims. According to Human Rights Without Frontiers, which keeps track of prisoners of conscience around the world, China has incarcerated the highest number of believers of all denominations in the world. Experts say the number of people being detained for their religious beliefs and observances is the highest since the Cultural Revolution.

This includes large numbers of Evangelical Protestants and Pentecostal Protestants belonging to underground house churches. Well over half of China’s Protestants belong to such independent house churches. The pressure on these organizations has intensified dramatically. They are being pushed hard to register and knuckle under to government authority, and those that do not are often labeled as “evil cults.” They are facing intensified scrutiny by security forces and seizure of their property, as well as physical attacks and arrests of pastors.

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Like a Lamb to the Slaughter: Will the United States Send This Woman to Her Death?

An Open Letter to President Trump

Ms Demei Zou facing certain death-penalty in China if USA extradites her

Dear President Trump

We are NGOs, some of them with ECOSOC consultative status, active in the defense of human rights and religious liberty, with a special experience and concerns for China, and write to ask for your urgent intervention in a question, literally, of life and death.

It regards an asylum seeker of a Chinese Christian new religious movement, The Church of Almighty God, who is detained in Detroit, Michigan, and threatened with immediate deportation back to China, where she will be arrested and will be at serious risk of being executed.

The Church of Almighty God is a group listed as xie jiao (“heterodox teaching,” often wrongly translated as “evil cult”) and banned in China. Being active in it is a crime under Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code, punished with a jail penalty from threeto seven years “or more,” but being a leader of it exposes to much harsher punishment.The Chinese government has spread for several years fake news about The Church of Almighty God, accusing it of crimes it has never committed.

Ms. Demei Zou was born on August 14, 1976. She was the leader of The Church of Almighty God in four provinces of China. Because of the severe persecution, somebody in the position of Ms. Zou normally destroys all identification documents and operates under aliases. Her role, however, became known to the police. Illegally, her Churchobtained a copy of her “Registration as Fugitive,” a document that reputable scholarsbelieve to be genuine. It accuses Ms. Zou to be indeed the leader of The Church of Almighty God in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Chongqing, and Sichuan. It alsoaccuses Ms. Zou of being involved in “stealing and transporting Chinese military secretsabroad,” an absurd accusation for those who know her Church, but one involving thedeath penalty.

Ms. Zou fled from China to South Korea by using the passport of another person with her photograph pasted on it. From South Korea, she moved to America and arrived at Detroit, Michigan on January 24, 2017. There, her passport was identified as false, and she was arrested. She had her initial master calendar hearing on April 11, 2017, and another one on April 24, 2017. The Court heard testimonies from Ms. Zou and three additional witnesses – two are members of the Church who have been granted asylum in the US on the grounds of religious persecution – at her individual merits hearings on June 13, July 18, and August 29, 2017. She received her notice of losing the case in December of 2017. She took her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), butagain, BIA upheld the Immigration Judge’s adverse decision. She appealed on June 15,2018. But, according to the account she provided to her co-religionists, immigration officers advised her that she would be deported to China and in fact made attempts to put her on a plane to Beijing last week, attempts she physically resisted.

Ms. Zou does not speak English. Although the Immigration Court in Detroit also cited the fake news about The Church of Almighty God it found on the Internet (although they have disappeared even from Wikipedia, and foreign decisions in parallel refugee cases expose them as mere Chinese propaganda), the main problems were Ms. Zou’sdifficulties in proving her identity, her identity documents having been destroyed, and in telling their story in a way understandable to the authorities, although her co-religionists testified of knowing her and about her role in the Church. We understand that American courts claim they cannot be sure the woman in jail in Detroit is really Ms. Zou, since she has no identity documents. But several co-religionists who escaped to the United States are prepared to swear that she is indeed Ms. Zou.

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