If there's one word Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would use to describe the abuses against men and women of faith, it's "chilling." During last Friday's press conference, when the agency rolled out its annual report on international religious liberty, one thing was clear, Pompeo said: "2018 was far from perfect."
There were some bright spots, Ambassador at Large Sam Brownback told me on Wednesday's "Washington Watch." For the first time in 13 years, Uzbekistan is no longer a country of particular concern. Elsewhere, he explained, "I think we've got some notable improvements in a few places... I think the world is starting to take notice that the United States is serious about this." One example of that, he said, is the Burundi government, who were arresting, beating, and intimidating Seventh Day Adventists. "They were arrested on a Friday," Ambassador Brownback explains, "and then the government seemed to start thinking, 'Well, we may get in trouble about this.' And by Tuesday they were out of jail... It was like, 'We just don't want to be nailed in the global media about this. And so I think you're seeing us have a positive impact by this attention we're given to the topic."
Of course, the flip side of that progress are the regimes like China, who seem to be immune to any sort of global pressure. In the State Department's latest report, Brownback says the agency even put a special section in the document about Xinjiang, "where the Chinese government has really put in a police state with the cameras and artificial intelligence and facial identification markers that's really extraordinarily [horrific]. [It's] really the future of oppression where you get these high-tech systems that freezes you out of the economy and out of participating in this society."
It's disturbing, Brownback explained, because it isn't prison, but the effects are still the same. Effectively, he points out, these men and women of faith can't participate in society. "They can't buy and sell. They can't work in the economy or in the culture. And this is something that's just been deeply, deeply troubling to me because I just, I think is so it's wrong what the Chinese are doing." Worse, he worries, "I think it's the future of oppression, and I don't want to see it spread outside of China."
Hopefully, with the Trump administration's involvement, it won't. Already, the plans are well underway for the State Department's second ministerial on international religious liberty. And based on the first event, it has the potential to change the global dialogue on the persecuted. So far, more than 900 people from as many as 115 countries are registered. In fact, Brownback told me, it's been so popular that the administration is about to have to close registration. "We're just out of space."
But for the millions of abused men and women around the world waiting for leaders to help, the news that so many people are interested in changing the landscape of religious liberty is an answer to prayer. "History," Secretary Pompeo has said, "will not be silent on these abuses." And based on these first three years, neither will the Trump administration.