There is a correlation between nations that violate religious freedom and their engagement in “transnational repression,” according to panelists at a hearing conducted on May 10 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Transnational repression takes place, according to the FBI, “when foreign governments stalk, intimidate or assault people in the United States.” Examples of such repression include coercing people to return to their home country, threatening, harassing or detaining family members in their home country, and freezing financial assets.

People who are members of religious or ethnic minority groups are among the people targeted by repressive governments, and such human rights violations take place not only within these nations’ borders but also outside their borders when governments enact measures to harass or intimidate citizens who are living abroad.

“It should come as little surprise … that some of the countries with the most troubling trendline on transnational repression also happen to be among the worst violators of the freedom of religion or belief,” said Scott Busby, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in his remarks during the hearing.

Busby specifically cited actions by the government of the People’s Republic of China, which has sought to compel other nations to require Chinese citizens who are ethnic and religious minorities to return to China.

One method some nations use for this purpose are “poison pen” notices, he explained, which involve providing false information about dangers posed by political dissidents and ethnic / religious minorities to intelligence agencies, resulting in innocent persons being deported.

An example of this “poison pen” approach was highlighted in remarks by Nate Schenkkan, senior director of research at Freedom House, who noted how this has been used against the Islamic Renaissance Party, an opposition party in Tajikistan, which the government labeled a terrorist organization.

If repressive governments are successful in compelling the return of political and religious minorities to their home country, then they are often subject to imprisonment, abuse, torture and other human rights’ violations. This, Busby explained, is an example of transnational repression of religious freedom.

Julie Millsap, government relations manager at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, addressed China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs, an ethnic and religious minority group who are facing genocide at the hands of the PRC government.

“The Uyghur genocide is a human rights crisis that is unprecedented in our world today,” she said. “This mass detention of an ethno-religious group is unparalleled not only in scale, but also in terms of the emboldened reach exercised by the Chinese Communist authorities to systematically pursue Uyghurs living in other countries, as well as scholars, activists and others who speak out against the crimes carried out by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Marcus Michaelsen, senior researcher at Citizen Lab, explained how technology is being used by repressive, authoritarian governments to surveil, censor, threaten and intimidate citizens, including religious minorities.

The full hearing, as well as transcripts of remarks by each presenter, can be found here.

Share This