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Reps. Raskin & Meadows Call for Release of Religious Prisoners of Conscience around the World and an End to Global Religious Persecution

July 25, 2019
Press Release

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Mark Meadows (R-NC) introduced a bipartisan Resolution calling for global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws. The Resolution also calls for the immediate release of religious prisoners of conscience (RPC) across the globe. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), more than one-third of existing countries still maintain and use blasphemy laws against religious minorities and dissenters. 

“Theocratic and authoritarian governments across the world are punishing people under laws that crush religious freedom and liberty of conscience. These laws criminalizing ‘blasphemy,’ ‘heresy,’ ‘apostasy,’ ‘witchcraft,’ ‘sorcery,’ and all kinds of other imaginary religious offenses were wiped from the books of American law centuries and decades ago,” said Rep. Raskin. “There are people rotting in prison today in China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and dozens of other countries which use the law to oppress and harass people because of their religious faith and ideas.”

"As a Christian, I fundamentally believe that all people are created in the image of God. We must protect all people—religious and non-religious alike—and their freedom of conscience," said Rep. Meadows. "This resolution is an important step to tell oppressive regimes across the globe that their use of arbitrary apostacy laws to imprison, torture, and kill religious minorities is unacceptable and must come to an end. I thank my colleague, Representative Raskin, for his bipartisan work on this issue."

USCIRF’s 2019 annual report designated sixteen countries as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) due to their severe suppression of religious freedom and details chilling examples of religious persecution:

  • In China, the government has increasingly persecuted Muslims, Christians, Tibetans, and religious minority groups and has detained more than 800,000 Uyghurs in internment camps, separating their families, and relocating some children to orphanages.  
  • In Burma, a predominantly Buddhist nation, the Rohingya Muslim people have been subject to what the U.N. Secretary-General has called “a pattern of persecution” and “ethnic cleansing.”
  • In Iran, the Baha’i community is the largest non-Muslim religious majority in the country and is treated by the government as a band of heretics. As of February 2018, more than 70 Baha’is remain in prison solely for their religious identity and beliefs.
  • In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned by the government as an extremist group and their properties have been seized and ordered liquidated by the government. In February 2019, at least 7 Witnesses were allegedly tortured by local police in northern Siberia and more than 20 Witnesses remain in prison across Russia.

As an Executive Committee Member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and partner of the Defending Freedoms Project, Congressman Raskin advocates for the release, reduced sentencing, and improved treatment of prisoners of conscience. He advocated on behalf of Abdul Shakoor, an 82-year-old Pakistani who was recently released after being imprisoned for more than three years for his belief in the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith. Congressman Raskin is currently advocating for the release of Kunchok Tsephel, a Tibetan who created a website promoting Tibetan culture and has been subsequently imprisoned by the Chinese government since 2009.

“The freedoms to choose your religion or no religion at all and to worship and think freely are fundamental and non-negotiable,” continued Rep. Raskin. “There can be no real ‘religious freedom’ for people if they are too afraid to go to church, to synagogue, to the mosque or to the library. I thank my colleague Rep. Meadows for joining me on this Resolution and call on all our colleagues to join us in defending religious freedom and tolerance everywhere.”

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