WASHINGTON: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Monday expressed its concern over reports that religious minority groups from around the world have faced discrimination because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Religious communities have been harassed and accused of bringing COVID-19 to their countries.
“COVID-19 does not discriminate based on religion or creed,” noted USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins. “Around the world, individuals of every faith and every denomination have been infected. It is time to stop scapegoating religious minorities – as we have witnessed by the Chinese Communist Party – and instead unite against this pandemic.”
In many countries, governments have failed to protect vulnerable religious communities. In particular, Muslims in India and Cambodia as well as Shi’a Muslims in Pakistan have faced increased stigmatization in recent weeks because some of the earliest patients to test positive for COVID-19 in those countries came from these communities. In addition, local authorities in South Korea have filed lawsuit against the Shincheonji Church, alleging that it undermined public health measures, even though the Ministry of Health and Welfare stated publicly that the church has cooperated with the government’s efforts.
“Governments around the world are undoubtedly busy responding to the public health crisis, but they still have an obligation to respect and protect religious freedom, especially for minority communities during and following this crisis,” USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin added.
In its 2019 Annual Report, USCIRF noted an increase in discrimination against certain religious minority groups, and recently released a factsheet about the effect of COVID-19 on religious freedom. USCIRF has called on all governments to release religious prisoners of conscience during the pandemic because of the heightened risk of infection in prisons.