Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces International Religious Freedom Alliance as second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom concludes

Curtis Ramsey-Lucas

July 19, 2019

On the closing day of the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Liberty, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced plans to create a new International Religious Freedom Alliance.

Speaking to representatives of 106 countries, he said, “We hope that this new vehicle — the first-ever international body devoted to this specific topic – will build on efforts to date and bring like-minded countries together to confront challenges of international religious freedom. It will provide a space for the work that we do here to flourish throughout the year.”

Vice President Mike Pence also addressed the gathering. “We will always continue to stand for the freedom to live, work, and worship according to the dictates of your conscience,” he said. “Freedom of religion will always be an American anthem.”

Pence announced sanctions on two leaders of Iranian-backed militias, groups he said are responsible for extorting and terrorizing “the people of the Nineveh Plain,” a region of northern Iraq where religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, are persecuted.

Pence also noted the campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people in Myanmar. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority with some 700,000 members who have been forced to flee to refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. Earlier in the week, the administration placed visa restrictions on several high-ranking military officials in Myanmar due to what the State Department said was their involvement in the ethnic cleansing.

Foreign ministers attending the three-day Ministerial spoke of their nation’s efforts to support religious liberty. The gathering also included opportunities for survivors to share their stories of persecution and for religious and civil society leaders to discuss ways to improve interfaith understanding.

The gathering produced several statements of concern highlighting some of the most pressing issues impacting religious freedom around the world and countries where religious freedom is under serious threat. These included a statement urging “the Chinese government to protect the internationally recognized right to religious freedom of all individuals and to respect the human rights of members of all religious groups in accordance with China’s human rights commitments.”

Since 2017, China has detained over one million ethnic minority Muslims in internment camps in the far western region of Xinjiang. The government has also cracked down on unregistered churches, detaining pastors and church members, removing crosses from church buildings, conducting surveillance inside churches, closing churches and demolishing church buildings.

The statement on China notes with alarm the “repressive campaign against Muslims, including Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang” as well as the government’s crackdown on unregistered churches.

“We call on China to release the Early Rain leader Pastor Wang Yi and two elders, and to allow religious believers of all churches to exercise their right to religious freedom.” Wang Yi remains in detention following his arrest in December 2018. He is charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”

Curtis Ramsey-Lucas is editor of The Christian Citizen, a publication of American Baptist Home Mission Societies

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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