It is shocking to see the recent footage of how Uighur Muslims are being treated by the Chinese Government and realise that these are some of the people Jesus instructed us to love (Mark 12:31, Luke 10:25-37).
As the Bishop of Truro pointed out in his independent review last year, religious freedom for one group means freedom of religion or belief for all.
We need to pray and advocate for everybody to be free to worship according to the faith of their choosing. This is a principle enshrined in the Bible. When Moses campaigned for the freedom of the Israelite slaves he went to Pharaoh and said, “The Lord the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me…” (Exodus 7:16). The purpose of freedom is worship. God wanted his people set free so that they could worship him in their place of choice.
Each year the charity Open Doors create their World Watch List (WWL) of the 50 most dangerous countries to be Christian. The Chinese Government appears to be increasingly anxious about keeping China communist and keeping it pure and untainted. It is therefore doing anything it can to suppress anyone who worships a power they consider to be higher than the Government – that includes Christians, Muslims and many other religious groups. China has rocketed up the WWL from 43 to 23 in the last two years. We've been hearing reports of pastors being detained and family members denied access to their trial hearings. Worship is no longer allowed in unregistered churches, crosses cannot be displayed on buildings, it is illegal to purchase Bibles in Christian bookshops and it is strictly forbidden for children under the age of 18 to attend church.
In a particularly sinister development, this year we have also seen a significant increase in the use of surveillance techniques including facial recognition cameras in churches. Such data can contribute to the newly introduced social credit system, which decides how good a Chinese citizen you are. The system provides another weapon with which the Government can squeeze Christians, Muslims and other minorities, potentially denying them access to healthcare or a bank loan, for example.
Once Freedom of Religion or Belief is compromised, many other freedoms go with it – freedom of speech, the right to public assembly, freedom to enjoy the rights of other citizens. FORB is the canary in the coalmine, its demise reveals a significant problem. On the BBC yesterday the Chinese Ambassador to the UK said that China treats all its citizens equally, but all evidence is to the contrary.
Whenever we say we believe in a free society, we must recognise that freedom to worship as we choose is at the heart of that. Freedom for one means freedom for all and the denial of that freedom for one group should be a matter of grave concern to everyone.
Speaking out on behalf of our Muslim neighbours is not only an act of love, it is an obligation. ?
Harry Botham is a freelance journalist
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