Category: Christian Persecution & News

Justice Department Calls on San Francisco Mayor to End “One Congregant” Rule for Places of Worship to Comply with the Constitution

The Justice Department on Friday sent a letter to San Francisco mayor explaining that the city’s policy of only allowing a single worshiper in places of worship regardless of their size, while allowing multiple patrons in other indoor settings including gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycare’s, is contrary to the Constitution and the nation’s best tradition of religious freedom.

The letter, sent by Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, David Anderson, explains that San Francisco’s policy of treating secular businesses more favorably than houses of worship is “wholly at odds with this nation’s traditional understanding of religious liberty, and may violate the First Amendment,” and calls on the mayor to take action to treat places of worship equally with other venues where people share enclosed spaces.

“No government in this free country can attack religion by transforming a house of worship arbitrarily into a place for solitary confinement. People of faith go to churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places to worship with their fellow believers, and they can do so lawfully because the First Amendment to the United States Constitution makes illegal any effort by government to prohibit the free exercise of religion,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “That we are dealing with a very serious public health crisis does not permit government to discriminate against religious worshipers by imposing a one-person-per-house-of-worship rule while permitting larger numbers of people to gather in tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and other places. There is no pandemic exception to the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights.” 

While continuing to enforce the one-congregant rule, San Francisco allows patrons at gyms, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, and massage studios so long as 6-foot distancing is followed. Gyms are allowed to open at 10 percent of capacity, daycares to operate with 10 to 12 children per class, and retail establishments generally can operate at 50 percent of capacity. 

The letter calls on the city to immediately equalize its treatment of places of worship to comply with the First Amendment.

On April 27, 2020, Attorney General William P. Barr directed Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider, to review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Blogs to Follow: (September 2020)  Justice Department Calls on San Francisco Mayor to End “One Congregant” Rule for Places of Worship to Comply with the Constitution

Pakistani Christian Sentenced to Death for Allegedly Sending Blasphemous Text Messages in 2013

Lawyer Claims “No Evidence” Presented to Support Court’s Decision

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Asif Pervaiz, a 37-year-old Pakistani Christian, has been sentenced to death for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages in 2013. According to Pervaiz’s attorney, the death sentence was announced by the court despite there being “no evidence” to implicate his client in the case.

Earlier today, Saif-ul-Malook, the attorney representing Pervaiz in court, tweeted that his client had been sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. “Asif Pervaiz sentenced to death by trial court at Lahore for committing blasphemy although there was no such evidence,” Malook’s tweet read.

The court’s decision comes almost seven years after the initial blasphemy accusation was made against Pervaiz by a Muslim co-worker in October 2013.

On October 2, 2013, a Muslim named Saeed Ahmeed Khokar accused Pervaiz of sending him blasphemous text messages from his mobile phone. Blasphemy charges under Sections 295-A, 295-B, and 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code were registered against Pervaiz at the Green Town Police Station in Lahore.

When Pervaiz became aware of the charges, he went into hiding. On October 9, after a week of searching for Pervaiz, police arrested several of Pervaiz’s relatives, including two brothers-in-law and his mother, Naseem Akhtar. According to Akhtar, police told her that they would kill Pervaiz when they found him unless she helped them locate her son.

Akhtar led the police to the home of Waseem Anwar, Pervaiz’s brother. There, police beat Waseem until he confessed to knowing where Pervaiz was hidden. On October 10, 2013, Pervaiz was arrested by police in Sahiwal.

“Asif Pervaiz sentenced to death by trial court at Lahore for committing blasphemy although there was no such evidence,” Saif-ul-Malook, Pervaiz’s attorney, tweeted.

According to Pervaiz’s family, Pervaiz and Khokar were co-workers at a garment factory named Shami Textile, located in the Youhanabad neighborhood of Lahore. At work, Khokar often pressured Pervaiz to convert to Islam, which Pervaiz refused. Prior to October 2, Pervaiz reportedly lost his mobile phone’s SIM card and did not request the company to deactivate it. According to Pervaiz’s family, Khokar used the lost SIM card to send the blasphemous text messages he used to register the false accusation against Pervaiz.

In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.

Since Pakistan added Section 295-B and 295-C to the country’s blasphemy laws in 1987, the number of blasphemy accusations has skyrocketed. Between 1987 and 2017, 1,534 individuals in Pakistan have been accused of blasphemy. Out of that 1,534, 829 accusations (54%) were made against religious minorities. With Christians only making up 1.6% of Pakistan’s total population, the 238 accusations (15.5%) made against Christians are highly disproportionate.

Currently, 25 Christian are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, including Asif Pervaiz. These 25 Christians are defendants in 22 blasphemy cases represented at various levels of the judicial process in Pakistan.

ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are saddened by the court’s decision to sentence Asif Pervaiz to death under the blasphemy laws. We are especially concerned that the death sentence was made with reportedly no evidence being presented to support the blasphemy allegation against Asif. The abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be curbed and false allegations must be rooted out and punished. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities. Without real reform, religious minorities, including Christians, will face more false blasphemy accusations and the extreme violence that often accompanies these accusations.

Blogs to Follow: (September 2020)  Pakistani Christian Sentenced to Death for Allegedly Sending Blasphemous Text Messages in 2013

The Unresolved Legacy of Communist Crimes Speech

Speech at the Tribunal on Forced Labor in Cottbus, Germany, on September 11, 2020

On September 11, 2020, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) Executive Director Marion Smith spoke at the Tribunal on Forced Labor in Cottbus, Germany.

“It’s an honor to be with you all in Cottbus this evening. And on behalf of the board of trustees of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and our many patrons in the United States I want to thank you for convening this important conference.

It is vitally important that we have not only a moral reckoning for the crimes committed by communist regimes, but also some form of legal accountability.

Our organization was authorized by the Congress of the United States 26 years ago, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our mission is to spread understanding of the grave crimes perpetrated by those who sought to enact the ideology and programs of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and many other communist ideologues and despots.

Every day, we strive to remind the world that communism is the most vicious idea in human history, one that has murdered, enslaved, and ruined more lives than any other, by a massive margin. It has already killed more than a hundred million men, women, children, infants, and unborn. It has already dominated more than two billion people, for more than a century.

More people live under a single party communist regime today than ever before. More people suffer from its tyranny than during the Cold War.

The hardest part of my job is listening to their stories.

A North Korean mother forced to watch as her children starve to death.

Seeing the scars of a Chinese man tortured in a reeducation camp because of his religious faith.

A brave Cuban woman who’s left arm was chopped off because she tried to reopen a school for the children of her village.

Everywhere I go, I listen to these stories, which is why I am here today. In fact, all of us are here to listen to the stories of the victims of communism.

We will hear from those who witnessed or endured the forced labor that for many, defined the German Democratic Republic (GDR). We will hear what it was like for the more than 200,000 political prisoners who were sent into the fields, the mines, and the factories. Many were housed in this very prison, which was the largest facility for political prisoners in the GDR. We will hear about the crimes they saw, the pain they felt, and the scars they carry to this day.

But we are not here only to listen. We came to this place to act. We seek one thing, one simple word, and that is justice.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of East Germany’s reunification with the West. Sadly, over three long decades, the wrongs that the communist rulers perpetrated have not been righted. We face the threat of collective amnesia as the perpetrators are becoming forgotten, and so are the victims.

Yet those of us here have no intention of letting that happen. We want the victims of East Germany to know that we will never forget them.

The pursuit of justice must begin by shining a light on injustice. And so today, we ask ourselves: What happened in this prison? What happened across the German Democratic Republic as a whole?

The sad truth is that forced labor was widespread in the GDR, from its founding in 1949 to its fall in 1990. Of course, the GDR was not the only regime that relied on forced labor. So did the Nazi regime that preceded it and the Soviet Union that controlled it.

The Nazis systematically enslaved ethnic groups across Central and Eastern Europe, affecting at least 12 million people. In the Nazi network of concentration camps, forced labor often preceded extermination. As for the Soviets, they built their own network of suffering and servitude, known as the Gulag. At least 18 million people were sent there, at least one-and-a-half million of whom died.

It was never of question of whether forced labor would come to East Germany. It was just a matter of when.

Like the national socialism of the Nazi State, the international socialism of communism fundamentally rejected the idea of human rights and individual dignity. To the Politburo in Berlin and Moscow, the people of East Germany were serfs, not citizens.

They were assets to be used to generate income for the state…after all, in the communist mind, the needs of the state are all that matter. Everything, and everyone, can be sacrificed in the state’s name.

East Germany’s forced labor system was built on this immoral foundation. As research has shown, the state relied on forced labor from political prisoners in virtually every industry.

Take the metal industry.

German prisoners were routinely put to work in steel and rolling mills. They were given little to no training, put on the oldest and most dangerous machines, and forced to work around the clock. We know from witness accounts that accidents were widespread, showing the GDR’s utter disregard for human life and well-being.

The furniture industry was no better.

Both domestic and international companies turned to East Germany’s prisoners to make their tables, chairs, and other goods. Prisoners were exposed to dangerous chemicals, told to work while gravely sick, subjected to x-rays without protective equipment, and worse. They were sprayed with acid, burned, and blinded. If they refused to work, they were chained to their beds for days at a time.

In the mining industry, the communist authorities also relied on slave labor. In the 1950s, political prisoners could be found mining uranium, which exposed them to radioactive materials.

For years, the GDR put thousands of prisoners to work in underground mines, violating its treaty commitments. Injuries and fatalities became so common that even the Soviet Union said the situation was out of control.

There are many other industries where forced labor was the norm. Garments, Construction,  Farming, and the list goes on. Amazingly, East Germany even had a mechanism to sell its de facto slaves for a profit. By 1989, West Germany had bought the freedom of nearly 34,000 East German political prisoners. East Germany was able to milk them for money to the very last minute.

The system that I have described is the definition of despicable and inhumane. The GDR treated people as property to be used until they broke. This Tribunal will uncover more details about the breadth and depth of this evil system.

By the time we leave, we will be able to paint a fuller picture of forced labor in East Germany.

Then, we will be in a better place to pursue justice for those who suffered so much for so long.

The importance of our work cannot be overstated. What we are doing here can be a model for the victims of communism in other countries.

Thirty years after Germany’s reunification, and thirty-one years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the free world still needs a moral and legal reckoning with the crimes of communism. From Germany to Georgia, Armenia to Albania, and beyond, the victims of communism still have not received the attention and action that they deserve.

In the United States, we have a saying: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

For those who labored and suffered under the brutal rule of communism, justice has been delayed for far too long. Accountability can wait no longer. The victims of communism in East Germany deserve their due.

We must do this for them… but not only them. We must do this for all the current victims of communism, as well.

The stories that we will hear in the coming days are from decades gone by. Yet forced labor in communist regimes did not end in 1990. It continues to this day. In fact, the dictators of the 21st Century have learned from the forced labor systems of the 20th Century and even sought to improve on them. Today, we are seeing innovations in forced labor across the globe.

Consider an example from the Western Hemisphere. Ninety miles off the coast of the United States lay, Communist Cuba. The regime in Havana uses forced labor not only to make money, but to spread communist propaganda throughout the world.

Cuba’s forced labor program involves medical professionals. Every year, the country selects doctors and nurses and sends them abroad. Currently, as many as 50,000 Cuban medical professionals can be found in at least 60 countries, from the Americas to Asia to Africa and beyond. Cuba claims to be engaging in humanitarian work, but that is a lie. It is nothing more than a novel form of forced labor.

The Cuban doctors do not work for themselves. The government in Havana steals their wages, which amounts to nearly $11 billion every year—more than 10% of Cuba’s GDP. It also compels the doctors to support local socialist and communist politicians and prop up regimes that Cuba supports, like the dictatorship in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, back home, the doctors’ families are held as hostages.

Far from doing their jobs willingly, these doctors work to ensure the safety of their loved ones from the brutality of Cuba’s Communist Party.

There is no question that this is forced labor. We need only ask the doctors themselves. Plenty have come forward with stories of Havana’s abuse and theft in recent years. One Cuban doctor who defected while working in Brazil recently said, “There comes a time when you get tired of being a slave.”

Like the victims of the GDR, Cuba’s medical workers deserve justice, too.

Another example of modern-day forced labor comes from North Korea.

In 2018, some 2.6 million North Koreans lived in slavery, or more than 1 out of every 10 people in the country. By some estimates, a “significant majority” of North Koreans have endured forced labor at some point in their lives. Huge numbers of the victims are children, as young as 10 years old, or even younger.

Like the Soviet Gulag, North Korea’s forced labor system has a name – the Kwan-Li-So. It is fair to say that North Korea’s economy is built on a foundation of forced labor.

Political prisoners build the country’s bridges and apartment buildings. They slave away in mines and on farms. Tens of thousands have also been sent to China, where they work in factories, or to Russia, where they work at logging camps. Countless prisoners die from malnutrition and abysmal conditions, which include working in the coldest months of winter without shoes.

Several years ago, a survivor of Auschwitz and renowned human rights lawyer, Thomas Buergenthal, said that North Korea’s forced labor system is “as terrible or worse” than the Nazi concentration camps in which he lived. From what I have heard from North Korean defectors, I believe that North Korea’s labor camps are the most brutal places on the planet.

Like the victims of the GDR, the millions of slaves in North Korea deserve justice, too.

Finally, there is Communist China.

Forced labor is not new to China. It has been a fact of life there since the 1950s. Forced labor has been institutionalized in China as part of the “laogai” system, which translates as “reform through labor.” Between 40 and 50 million people have been sent to China’s labor camps since the regime’s founding.

Currently, more than 1,000 forced labor camps are active in the People’s Republic of China. The number of prisoners is unknown, but estimates put it well into the millions.

The world has come to a greater recognition of China’s forced labor system in the past few years.

Where before the communist authorities primarily targeted political dissidents and religious faiths, now they are targeting an entire ethnic group – the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang. As many as three million Uyghurs have been sent to camps where they undergo indoctrination and torture.

As part of their imprisonment, many Uyghurs are forced to work at Chinese factories. These factories are part of the global supply chains for at least 83 well-known companies, including Apple, BMW, Lacoste, Nike, Microsoft, Volkswagen, and Zara, according to a recent report in Australia.

This year, during the COVID pandemic, Uyghurs were forced to make face masks that were shipped across the world.

In addition to forced labor, many Uyghurs have their organs harvested for sale to wealthy foreigners. Practitioners of Falun Gong, a religious movement that Beijing fears, are subjected to the same horrific treatment. Much like Cuba, this represents an innovation in forced labor. China has found a way to profit off its victims in both life and death.

Once again, like the victims of the GDR, the millions of forced laborers in Communist China deserve justice, too.

It is against this global backdrop that we gather for this Tribunal. The discussions we have and testimonies we hear will rightly focus on the past. Yet we cannot lose sight of the global reality that surrounds us.

The crimes we will hear about are not so different from the crimes being committed in the communist states of today. The victims we will hear from are not unlike the victims of Cuba, North Korea, China, and other brutal regimes.

The particulars may differ, but the larger point is the same. Communism is the world’s worst perpetrator of forced labor. It was true in the 20th Century. It is true in the 21st Century.

No matter when it occurred, where it occurred, or what form it takes, it is our duty to condemn it and call for its abolition. By taking a stand against the evil actions of the GDR and the Soviet Union, we say to the communist regimes of today that we recognize and reject their oppression.

As a millennial American, I can think of no better exercise to ensure that we will enjoy better lives this century than to consciously learn from the horrors of the last century. And so on this front I express my gratitude to the Germans gathered here for your vital work in challenging our civilization to not commit the moral crime of forgetfulness.

In so many ways Germany proved to be the crucible upon which new ideologies of the last century were forged. And the tragic failures of fascism and communism, especially, and Germany’s profound overcoming of war and terror makes your country uniquely able to warn the perhaps naïve populations elsewhere about all we must safeguard and about all we could lose by succumbing to unnatural, inhumane, and extremist ideologies that deny the dignity of each and every human life.

All this goes to say: “Our work here matters more than we know. So let us pursue justice for the past and the present. And together, let us pursue a future free of communism and all the evil it entails, so that our children, and theirs, may inherit a world more just than our own.”

Thank you.”

Blogs to Follow: (September 2020)  The Unresolved Legacy of Communist Crimes

ICC: Beirut Explosion Sends Shockwaves Through Iraq

(International Christian Concern (ICC)) – Last week’s catastrophe in Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut is one the most forceful and damaging non-nuclear explosions in world history.

Over 2,700 tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate ignited in an explosion that was reportedly felt in both Cyprus and Damascus. Most corners of Beirut have significant damage, and it is estimated that tens of thousands are now homeless.

The entire global community was shocked by this disaster.

But nearby in Iraq, where militias run rampant, and the storage of explosives in residential areas is common, the shock was underscored by the thought, “This could have happened here.” It is a reality that has helped propel Christian immigration from the country.

One Christian living in Baghdad watched in disbelief at the events unfolding in Lebanon. “I would imagine that this explosion happens in Iraq rather than Beirut! I think Iranians have more influence in Iraq. We are geographically closer to Iran. In Iraq, there are many more military bases that belong to Iran. The Iraqi government should start looking for such materials, like ammonium nitrate, to avoid any similar disaster!”

Indeed, Beirut’s catastrophe did seem to hit home for some Iraqi officials. The head of Iraq’s Border Ports Authority quickly began forming a committee intended to clear out all hazardous inventory from the border ports. They were given 72 hours to complete the task. But in some ways, it was an order that missed the point: hazardous materials are stored everywhere in Iraq, not just the ports. These materials are connected to militias and their respective political parties, many of whom are heavily under Iranian influence.

“Iraq and Lebanon have similarities on so many things,” adds another Baghdad Christian. “Mainly the influence of Iran, which results in a militia existence in both countries. Those militias could be different in approaches, but there is one thing that they 100% share: corruption. Since they are recognized as terrorist groups and they can’t get resources unless it is under the table.”

“Corruption results in risking thousands of lives every day. Stocking explosive materials in Iraq among civilians’ houses is risking lives; bad storage at the border is risking lives. I think we can have examples as much as you can read,” he continues. “These militias one way or another are destroying the Middle East. Wherever there is Iran or its militia, there are disasters, crimes, and abuse of human rights. That results in the leaving of Christians and other people who can’t be a member of a militia for religious or social reasons.”

Such scenarios are already playing out, reminds a Christian business owner in Baghdad. He specifically remembers examples similar to Beirut occurring in the Christian areas of Iraq, thanks to both ISIS and Hashid militias. He says, “I would like to remind everyone of all the explosions that took place in Iraq; there were huge ones that result in damage to hundreds of houses. Go and look at Mosul and the Nineveh Plains!”

“All that results in the immigration of Christians and other minorities,” he adds. “When militias and Hashid come and store explosive materials next to your house, what will you do? You will get killed if you talk, and you will get killed if you stay at the same house. (There are) no options! How many explosions took place in Baghdad, such as because Hashid facilities have been targeted by the international coalition?!! ISIS and other extremist groups since 2003 have impacted Christians’ life so much.”

This reality has frustrated so many Iraqi Christians in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion. For those who had tried immigrating, Lebanon was a common destination during the intermediary stage. At least, unlike other neighboring countries, there was a sizeable Lebanese Christian population to integrate with during the interim. But now with Lebanon destroyed, immigration looks harder. Its destruction serves as a reminder of what so many Iraqi Christians were trying to flee.

A Christian from Qeraqosh explained, “I have experienced so many wars, since 1980 and 1991 and later. The safe place during the war was home, but not anymore. You could die even if you are at your home, just if any militia decided to store their weapons and rockets in your neighborhood.”

Such a reality sits uneasily in the minds of Christians. “Is there still a place to live in this country?” asks one woman. “When you lose someone close to your heart, that is the worst thing that could happen to someone, especially if the cause of death was avoidable. Militias are avoidable. After every explosion and targeting, I see people leaving the country. We ended up strangers. Friends and relatives are leaving one after one, can you tell me when that will have an end?”

The explosion in Lebanon was avoidable. But Iranian regional influence, militias, and their respective political parties, make it a possible scenario in many Middle East countries. For Iraqi Christians, it is an explosion that sends shockwaves throughout the community.

For there is no way to escape such a possibility, except to leave.

Blogs to Follow: (August 2020) Beirut Explosion Sends Shockwaves Through Iraq

Iranian Christian Woman Arrested

Last Tuesday evening, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard arrested a Christian woman living in Tehran named Malihe Nazari. This occurred in addition to the other twelve Christians who were arrested two weeks prior, the International Christian Concern (ICC) reported.

Dozens more were told they would soon be summoned for questioning.

Malihe is a member of a women’s-only house-church in Tehran known as One Heart. As is common in such arrests, her house was searched. The authorities confiscated her computer, mobile phone, and several books.

She was transported to Evin Prison and has been able to briefly contact her family. Malihe is the mother of two sons, the eldest of which has reportedly been battling cancer.

Despite Iran’s claim to never arrest citizens for their faith, incidents such as this are not uncommon to Christians.

Not only do these arrests infringe on Christians’ rights to practice their faith, but they further endanger already vulnerable families like Mahile’s who may live in poverty or are battling an illness.

As reported, twelve Iranian Christians were arrested two weeks ago by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. These arrests occurred in the cities of Tehran, Karaj, and Malayer. The authorities also obtained the contact info for dozens more, saying they would be summoned soon for questioning.

The raids were allegedly coordinated through an informant.

At a Tehran house-church, one Armenian Christian and five converts were arrested. The other 24 Christians who were present but not arrested had their mobile phones confiscated.

Three more converts were also arrested in the Tehran-Karaj area, and later another three in Malayer. The last three have since been released on bail of 30 million tomans ($1,500 USD).

No information has been released on the fate of the other nine Christians yet, other than that two have had their bail set for 50 million tomans ($2,500).

Although a reason for arrest was not explicitly stated, the Christians’ homes were searched specifically for Bibles, Christian literature, and communication devices.

It is not uncommon for Iranian Christians to be arrested for their faith, despite Iran’s claim never to arrest citizens for their beliefs.

Blogs to Follow: (July 2020) Iranian Christian Woman Arrested