- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2005

An array of activists yesterday offered a grim assessment of religious freedom around the world, saying that 2005 years after Jesus’ birth, many of His followers are severely repressed.

The chief villains in a “Christmas Under Siege Around the World” panel at the Capitol were Indonesia, China, Uzbekistan, Iran and North Korea.

“Anti-Christian persecution and discrimination around the world … is ugly, it’s growing, and third, the mass media seem to generally ignore or downplay its gravity,” Catholic Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput said.

The press has been particularly remiss, he said, in covering Indonesia, where three teenage Christian girls recently were beheaded by Muslim militants.

“News reports tend to describe Indonesia’s violence as generically ‘sectarian,’ as if Muslim and Christian extremists were mutually responsible,” the archbishop said. “This is troubling and flatly false. The bloodshed is overwhelmingly provoked and carried out by Islamic militants against the Christian minority.”

The archbishop was one of eight panelists who painted disturbing portraits of life for the average Christian in about a dozen countries.

The setting — a small chamber off the Senate galleries with hot chocolate and cookies as refreshments and brightly colored buttons offering Christmas greetings in Chinese, Korean and Arabic — was incongruous with large photos of a tortured or imprisoned Pakistani and Laotian Hmong Christians.

Jeff King, a panelist representing International Christian Concern, offered attendees a chance to view photos of the beheaded girls. There were no takers.

Indonesia, he said, had made it “practically impossible” for a Christian congregation to get a building permit. The government is drafting new laws about church buildings, “but the bottom line is, the cure is worse than the cold.”

Notwithstanding the photos about the room of the second Bush inauguration, the Bush administration came in for criticism by Lawrence Uzzell, president of the International Religious Freedom Watch.

“We’ve known for the last decade that most of the State Department bureaucracy needs constant pressure to give these issues the attention they deserve,” he said. “We now know that the White House also needs pressure, no matter which party is in power, sometimes especially with an administration that’s tempted to think that it can take its religious supporters for granted.”

Mr. Uzzell’s chief complaint was with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, describing both as “remote desert dictatorships” that are “the most vicious persecutors of religious faith” among the former Soviet republics.

Muslims of all stripes get the brunt of bad treatment in Uzbekistan, he said, and the country’s reputation as “among the leading torturers of all Eurasia” is a result of its horrendous treatment of even the most moderate Muslim.

“The fact that Washington has not named Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as ‘countries of particular concern’ under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act ought to be a major scandal,” he said.

Uzbekistan is “one of the places where renditions are said to happen,” he said, referring to the U.S. practice of sending foreign captives to Third World countries for imprisonment and torture.

“Some of our leaders have now become so obsessed with the war on terrorism … that they are willing to overlook the most horrible violations of freedom and of basic morality by dictators who claim to be our allies in that war,” he said.

The panelists, who were assembled by Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, included members of the Congressional Working Group on Religious Freedom and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Richard Land, who is a member of the latter, as well as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, portrayed North Korea as a country in which children are brainwashed from birth to worship the late Kim Il-sung and his son, President Kim Jong-il.

“Religion [is portrayed as] evil in the country’s education system and media and at the reported 450,000 ‘Kim Il-sung Revolutionary Research Centers,’ at which North Koreans are required to attend at least weekly sessions for instruction, inspiration and self-criticism,” he said.

In Sri Lanka, Buddhist militants have attacked religious minorities — mainly Christians — 200 times in the past two years, he said, but its government has done nothing to stop it. Indeed, the Sri Lankan government’s “toleration of violence” has encouraged Buddhist radicals to propose laws in its parliament punishing with up to seven years’ imprisonment for the “crime” of attempted conversion.

As for China, “the scope of political openness and individual freedom is narrowing” there, especially during 2005, he said. Particularly worrisome, he said, are the penalties exacted for teaching children about God.

Then Eden Naby, an Assyrian scholar described how in Iraq, the land where the Magi are said to have originated, the Christian population is fleeing to Turkey, Syria and Jordan. She said Iraqi Kurdish soldiers openly had attacked Assyrian churches and warned that today’s election in Iraq could open the door for Shariah, or Islamic law, throughout the country.

“It’s time for fair-minded people to rally,” she said, “because these last Aramaic speakers symbolize the move to eliminate Christianity from its native region.”

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