Vulnerable Religious Communities and the Outbreak of COVID-19

Background: On April 30, 2020, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA hosted a virtual webinar titled “Vulnerable Religious Communities during COVID” in which numerous panelists including Ambassador Sam Brownback and USCIRF Commissioner Rev. Johnnie Moore discussed how the outbreak of COVID-19 has exacerbated the discrimination and mistreatment of religious minority communities around the world.

Starting off with some positive news, Ambassador Brownback mentioned the release of prisoners of conscience in numerous nations around the world to prevent the spread of COVID among the prison population- such preventive measures have been taken in Burma, Iran, and Cuba, among others. However, such good news can not overshadow the numerous new hardships faced by religious minorities around the world. In many nations, such minorities are being scapegoated and blamed for the spread of coronavirus, and in many of these nations, medical supplies and food aid is being preferentially distributed to religious majority communities. Ambassador Brownback urges the community of international religious freedom and human rights advocates and activists to continue to speak out on the numerous violations being posed against religious minority communities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the start of the program, the host prepared a slide filled with photographs of tens of newspaper headlines highlighting this issue:

In an article by The Daily Signal titled “China Keeps Suppressing Religion While Squelching Truth About COVID-19,” it is revealed that the crackdown on reporters has been extended to religious minority communities. For example, the month of March was a nightmare for Christians, whose churches were closed, decimated, and desecrated as religious symbols were torn down and entire building were demolished. And in Xinjiang Province, the situation is even more harrowing. In addition to the overcrowded conditions of detention centers which put Uyghur and other Muslim inmates at a higher risk of exposure and contraction of the novel coronavirus, the danger extends beyond these facilities. Often without no notice, Uyghur communities were put on quarantine lockdown, and “unable to prepare and purchase food or medical supplies, many Uighurs went hungry, leaving distraught parents unable to properly feed their children.”

In another article by Christianity Today titled “Mexico’s Persecuted Protestants Lack Simple Coronavirus Defense,” the story of a Mexican Protestant named Angelina sheds light on the situation faced by thousands of religious minorities in Mexico. 50-year-old single mother Angelina and her family have been targeted for their faith even before the outbreak of COVID-19. In January of 2019, her household as well as many others in her Protestant neighborhood were cut off from sewage and water services, despite that Article 4 of the Constitution of Mexico states “everyone has the right to access, disposal, and treatment of water for personal and household consumption in sufficient measure, safely, acceptably, and affordably.”

Not long after, Angelina was fired from her position as Bienstar community representative, and members of her community were strictly prohibited from visiting her afterwards, especially to take care of her following her hysterectomy. Angelina’s pregnant daughter-in-law had been taking care of Angelina following her surgery, but a lack of sanitation and water has forced her to leave her mother-in-law to her own defenses.

According to Christianity Today, “lack of access to clean water can lead to serious health issues such as malnutrition, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal disorders, creating a burden for those who are are targeted as well as for those who care for the sick. The coronavirus pandemic is a real concern for many, but is of particular concern to those without basic sanitation.”

In the Hudson Institute‘s article “This Easter, Christians Worldwide are Fighting Not Just COVID-19 but Persecution Too,” it is revealed just how many nations are experiencing extreme religious persecution enduring throughout the COVID pandemic. In India, Christian communities that have been volunteering to deliver supplies and food to those in poverty have been harassed throughout March. In Iran, despite the some 85,000 prisoners released to prevent the spread of coronavirus, only a handful have been prisoners who were unjustly detained for worship and religious belief. In Africa, particularly in Nigeria, self-isolation and quarantine orders are ignored as Fulani and Boko Haram militants continue to routinely ambush Christian communities.

During this time of anxiety and uncertainty, we ask that you keep in your thoughts and prayers the millions of religious minorities whose hardships are only exacerbated by the spread of COVID-19.