- Pence condemned five countries for their systemic oppression of various faith groups, including government-sanctioned attacks on communities, concentration camps and executions.
- Pence affirmed the U.S.’ resolve to fight for the religious rights of oppressed groups, like Catholics in Nicaragua, Christians in North Korea and non-Shia Muslim faiths in Iran.
- He also called for an end to the rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the U.K.
Vice President Mike Pence lambasted China, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia and Iran Thursday for their systemic persecution of various faith groups.
Pence condemned the five countries for their human rights violations during his address at the first ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted at the Department of State by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He affirmed the U.S.’ resolve to fight for the religious liberties of the faith groups those countries target. (RELATED: Pence Warns Turkey, U.S. Will Impose Sanctions Unless Pastor Brunson Is Released)
“When religious liberty is denied or destroyed, we know that other freedoms, freedom of speech, press, assembly, and even democratic institutions themselves are imperiled. That’s why the United States of America stands for religious freedom yesterday, today, and always, we do this because it is right, but we also do this because religious freedom is in the interest of the peace and security of the world.
Those nations that reject religious freedom breed radicalism and resentment in citizens. They sowed the seeds of violence within their borders. Violence that often spills over into their neighbors and across the world, and as history has shown too many times those who deny religious freedom for their own people have no qualms trampling upon the rights of other people undermining security and peace across the wide and world,” Pence said.
He criticized Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega and his government for its deliberate and fatal acts of violence against the Catholic church, including government-sanctioned attacks on churches and physical assaults against priests. Pence honored Father Raul Zamora, the priest of Divine Mercy Church in Nicaragua, who has worked to shield students from violent government mobs.
“Last week, the Ortega government laid siege to his church after more than 200 students sought shelter there and two students lost their lives,” Pence said. “They joined the more than 350 courageous Nicaraguans who have died in the cause of freedom this year alone.”
“Let me say to you, father, our prayers are with you and the people of America stand with you for freedom of religion and freedom in Nicaragua,” Pence added.
Pence then raked the People’s Republic of China over the coals for its continued oppression of the Tibetan people and for systematically stripping religious liberties from Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
“The State Department’s annual international religious freedom report has labeled China as a religious freedom violator every year since 1999. Together with other religious minorities, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians are often under attack,” Pence said.
He also asserted that violations of religious freedom in China were only growing more overt and widespread.
“Sadly, as we speak as well, Beijing is holding hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Uyghur Muslims in so-called reeducation camps where they’re forced to endure around the clock political indoctrination to denounce their religious beliefs and their cultural identity as the goal,” Pence said.
Worse than China with regard to religious and human rights violations was North Korea, according to Pence.
“Today as we gather at this ministerial, an estimated 130,000 North Koreans are in prison for life in unimaginably brutal slave labor camps. Contrasted with the thriving Christian community in South Korea, North Korea’s persecution of Christians, has no rival on the earth,” he said.
“It is unforgiving, systematic, unyielding and often fatal. The mere possession of a Christian Bible is a capital offense, and those identified by the regime as Christians are regularly executed or condemned with their families to North Korea’s gulags,” he added.
Pence relayed the testimony of Ji Hyeon-A, a Christian who North Korean authorities imprisoned and tortured for the crime of owning a Bible her mother had gifted her. North Korean authorities then forced her to abort her unborn child after she attempted and failed to escape. She later escaped with her life.
“We are honored to have you with us today. Your faith and your courage inspire us all,” Pence told Hyeon-A.
Pence then criticized Russia for systematically persecuting and arresting Jehovah’s Witnesses and effectively outlawing their religion, and Iran, which he called the number one state sponsor of terrorism. He asserted the Iranian government consistently harasses, oppresses and kills members of faiths that are not Shia Muslim.
“We recognize that the Iranian people enjoy few, if any freedoms, least of all the freedom of religion. Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Baha’is, another minority religious groups are denying the most basic rights enjoyed by the Shia majority,” Pence said. “And they are routinely fined, flogged, arrested, assaulted and even killed. In 2016 alone, 20 Sunni Kurds were executed for the crime of allegedly waging war against God simply for practicing their faith.”
While he scorned Iran’s government, Pence also delivered a message of hope and solidarity to the Iranian people on behalf of the U.S., urging them to stand strong for their rights.
“The people of the United States of America have a message to the long-suffering people of Iran,” Pence said. “Even as we stand strong against the threats and malign actions of your leaders in Tehran, know that we are with you. We pray for you and we urge you, the good people of Iran, to press on with courage in the cause of freedom and a peaceful future for your people.”
Pence then called for an end to the rising, violent antisemitism in Europe and the U.K. He condemned antisemitic attacks in the U.K., which reached a record high in 2017, and in France, which he claimed averaged four attacks against Jewish citizens per day in the same year. He also lamented the situation in Germany, where Jews have been warned not to wear kippahs in public.
“It is remarkable the thing that within the very lifetimes of some French Jews, the same French Jews that were forced by the Nazis to were identifiable Jewish clothing, some of those same people are now being warned by their democratic leaders not to wear identifiable Jewish clothing,” Pence said. “These acts of violence and hatred and antisemitism must end.”
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