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US religious liberty ambassador calls out China for using tech to suppress religion

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by Matt Hadro

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 19, 2020 / 12:01 pm MT (CNA).- The U.S. will be working against the use of technology to suppress religious minorities, the religious freedom ambassador announced this week.

“The United States announced today that we will pursue the topic of misuse of technology to oppress religious minorities,” said Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, on a Nov. 17 press call about the 2020 Ministerial to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Brownback cited China’s abuses against Uyghurs; it has created a “virtual police state” to track the movements of the population and to engage in predictive policing.

“We’re seeing this graphically done in Xinjiang, where high-tech observation systems using artificial intelligence and facial recognition are oppressing a dominantly Muslim majority from practicing its faith, this along with being locked up in detention facilities – over a million Muslim Uyghurs locked up in detention facilities,” Brownback said.

Poland hosted the third annual ministerial, held virtually Nov. 16-17 due to the pandemic. The meeting featured leaders from more than 50 countries and international organizations. The United States hosted the first two ministerials in 2018 and 2019.

Callista Gingrich, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, stated Nov. 16 that “[u]pholding the right to religious freedom is not just a moral necessity. It is a national security imperative. When nations effectively protect religious freedom, they are safer, more prosperous, and secure.”

Brownback was asked about the recent election of presumptive President-elect Joe Biden, and what a new administration might mean for the future of religious freedom in U.S. diplomacy.

The ambassador said he was “optimistic” because promoting international religious freedom “is a bipartisan movement” that “goes deeply into the American psyche.”

The new International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, with 32 member countries, “is not going to stop with the change of an administration,” he added.

One of the priorities for the U.S. in the coming year will be countering China’s deployment of a “virtual police state” to suppress Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims, among others.

“And we want to stop this from spreading to other countries around the world or spreading more to other countries around the world,” he said.

Some other priorities for the U.S. next year include advocating for the release of prisoners of conscience and the repeal of blasphemy laws, Brownback said.

“We advocated for prisoners of conscience to be released during the pandemic,” he said, adding that “literally thousands of religious prisoners were released” in several countries.

“There are 10 countries in the world that give – they give the death penalty for apostasy or blasphemy,” he said, noting that the U.S. is working “for all of them to be repealed as a undue restriction on people’s religious freedom.”

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