China’s censorship efforts targeting godsdiens and surveillance programs have now stretched beyond its borders.
In Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony on Capitol Hill on March 25, die Facebook founder confirmed that Chinese government officials used his social media platform to target, surveil and harass Uyghur Muslims in the United States and elsewhere.
This brazen misuse of democratic platforms to quash dissidents inside and outside of Chinese borders demonstrates why China is one of the greatest threats to religious freedom – the freedom of conscience – in the world today .
China’s genocide against Uyghurs – and the tactics used to censor and punish them – should be a matter of grave concern to people of every faith worldwide. Though one of us is Christian and the other is Muslim, we are jointly speaking out against China’s abuses because a threat to the freedom of one religion is a threat to them all.
China’s detention of Uyghur Muslims in “reeducation camps” has served as a pilot program for the regime’s blueprint of persecution on religious groups. Christians are being targeted by the same surveillance methods that have already resulted in an estimated minimum of one million Uyghurs imprisoned under circumstances reminiscent of the Holocaust.
My own sister, Gulshan Abbas, a retired medical doctor, was abducted by the Chinese authorities from her home in September of 2018, six days after I spoke out publicly about the Chinese regime’s extrajudicial detainment of Uyghurs in concentration camps. My husband’s entire family had previously disappeared into these camps. To this day, I have not seen proof of life for my sister, though we learned through a third-party source that she was given a harsh prison sentence without trial or evidence of wrongdoing.
These actions by the Chinese authorities are clearly direct retaliation against my choice to exercise my freedom of speech as an American citizen.
Christians are also at risk. China is actively suppressing the free expression of more than 97 million Christians in the country, which is why it ranks at #17 on Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List, a research-based ranking of religious freedom conditions for Christians worldwide. Houses of worship are under increased scrutiny by the CCP, and police regularly raid the homes of those leading and attending online church meetings, driving many to escape the country as religious refugees.
But no one can escape digital authoritarianism. If the international community allows this behavior to continue without consequence, we can only expect China to export its blueprint of persecution further beyond Chinese borders and into emerging surveillance states.
The Facebook attacks signal that American and European citizens are also under China’s radar. We must unite to meaningfully counter the regime’s use of data-based censorship and extortion tactics to force the silence of Uyghur advocates, Han Chinese dissidents, and Christians worldwide.