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US names Russia, Iran among worst abusers of religious rights, slams ‘genocide’ against Uyghurs in China

Secretary Antony J. Blinken in a virtual U.S. Embassy London meet and greet on May 4, 2021. (State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. State Department has accused China of committing “genocide” against Muslim Uyghurs and other religious minorities in an annual report that also labeled Iran and Russia among the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken used the release of the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report on May 12 to name and shame the most egregious violators of religious freedom, which he defined as a universal human right.

“Religious freedom can’t be fully realized unless other human rights are respected, and when governments violate their people’s right to believe and worship freely, it jeopardizes all the others,” Blinken said.

Blinken pointed out on abuses of religious freedom in Iran, Burma (Myanmar), Russia, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, all of which were identified in the report as top offenders.

“In Russia, authorities continue to harass, detain, and seize property of Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as members of Muslim minority groups on the pretense of alleged extremism,” Blinken said.

The report itself says Russia continues to investigate, detain, imprison, torture, and physically abuse persons or seize their property because of their religious faith.

On Iran, the report lists a litany of restrictions and punishments related to religious freedom, including on followers of the official Shi’ite Muslim faith.

“Iran continues to intimidate, harass, and arrest members of minority faith groups, including Baha’i, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sunni and Sufi Muslims,” Blinken said.

In reviewing the contents of the report, Blinken highlighted rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred around the world as serious problems, including in the United States and Europe.

China’s ‘Crimes Against Humanity’The Trump administration in January said that China’s policies in Xinjiang constituted crimes against humanity and genocide, a position to which Blinken reiterated the Biden administration agrees.

“China broadly criminalizes religious expression and continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups,” Blinken said.

The State Department has said that as many as 2 million Uyghurs and members of Xinjiang’s other indigenous, mostly Muslim, ethnic groups have been taken to detention centers.

Beijing has rejected the allegations and has characterized the camps as vocational training centers to teach Chinese language, job skills, and the law in order to support economic development and combat extremism.

Daniel Nadel, a senior official in the State Department’s Office of International Freedom, said the situation in Xinjiang amounted to an effort by the Chinese government “to essentially turn the entire region into an open-air prison.”

Describing a trove of evidence revealing forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, forced population control, and other abuses in Xinjiang, Nadal said China was trying to “erase a people, a history, a culture from the Earth.”

Meanwhile, human rights groups and Western countries accused China of massive crimes in Xinjiang and demanded unimpeded access for UN experts at a May 12 virtual meeting.

Organizers said there were 152 participants in the event, including 51 countries, which was denounced by Beijing as an “anti-China” event.

British UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”

German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen urged China to “tear down the detention camps” and “grant unimpeded access” to the UN high commissioner for human rights.

A Chinese diplomat countered, “The truth is, it’s not about human rights in Xinjiang, it’s about using Xinjiang as a political tool to contain China.”