U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback made the following comments on the impact of COVID-19 on religious minorities around the world:
IN this time of pandemic, religious prisoners should be released. We call on all governments around the world to do so. It’s a good public health move for their nations and it’s morally obviously the right thing to do. We unfortunately have a number of religious prisoners around the world in various countries that are being held, and I just wanted to cite a few of those that are taking place right now.
Iran, the Iranian regime: Now, recently – and I was pleased to see this – it furloughed some 100,000 prisoners of conscience to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to this high-risk group. Any group that’s being held in a prison, this is inherently a very tight space of an easy-to-spread situation there. But they need to – they have not released a number of high-profile religious prisoners in Iran and we call on them to release all of them.
China continues to have a number of people imprisoned for their faith. We know that as far as the situation in Xinjiang, but we also know it happens and it continues to take place with Protestant and Catholic churches, house church and even officially recognized church, and then the Falun Gong members and Tibetan Buddhists have – a number of them are in prison. And again, those should all be released in this time of pandemic.
Vietnam has 128 prisoners of conscience that are in prison right now, and we call on them to release those prisoners.
Russia has nearly around 240 prisoners of conscience, including 34 Jehovah Witnesses.
Eritrea has 40 prisoners of conscience, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Indonesia has over 150 prisoners of conscience – well, excuse me, let me back up on that. Indonesia has over 150 that are in jail now for blasphemy law violations. And we believe that all of these should be released by any country that’s holding religious prisoners at this point in time.
We have been pushing this with our alliance members. We have 29 countries and the – our International Religious Freedom Alliance had a telephonic call yesterday with that group, brought this topic up, and I believe we will see a number of other nations join the call for the release of religious prisoners at this point in time.
This is a – something that we have worked on, I have worked on personally, and we as an office have worked on for years to get religious prisoners released. These are people that should not be in jail in the first place. They are simply in jail for peacefully practicing their faith, and yet various regimes put these peaceful prisoners in jail. This is an important time to pursue this objective of getting them completely released from prisons that they’re in for obvious reasons.