The most senior US Republican Senator has urged the Trump administration to help people who live, in his words, “under authoritarian regimes and face persecution for faith and religious beliefs”.
Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa has urged the US government to negotiate demands for religious freedoms in the same way it seeks improvements to working conditions and for the environment.
"I would like to see the United States help citizens from countries like Russia, Bangladesh and Sudan who live under authoritarian regimes and face persecution for faith and religious beliefs," he said in a written statement.
He also listed China, North Korea and Pakistan as countries that restricted their citizens’ rights to practice their chosen religion and worship without fear.
“Blasphemy laws are a vehicle for egregious violations of religious freedom and related human right,” he said, adding, “They exacerbate religious intolerance and discrimination, and embolden extremists to commit violent acts against perceived blasphemers.”
Senator Grassley is the chairman on the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee. He was also appointed president pro tempore of the Senate of the 116th US Congress, making him the third in the presidential line of succession after the Vice-President and Speaker of the House.
The State Department in December 2019 designated nine countries as “countries of particular concern” for carrying out or tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. It also placed countries on a “special watch list” for governments that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.
While all the countries mentioned by the influential Senator in his statement were on one of these two lists, Bangladesh was on none of the two.
In fact, last year’s US Commission on International Religious Freedom Report had recommended to the State Department that India along with several others be listed as a Tier 2 country of particular concern (CPC). Pakistan was recommended to be put as a Tier 1 CPC country. There was no mention of Bangladesh under either of the categories.
On China, the Senator’s statement said the “climate of oppression is only getting worse”. He has urged the administration to apply pressure on Chinese leaders by linking the need for religious freedom to aspects of a bilateral relationship that matter to China.
“We are in a powerful position to influence Chinese leaders to honour fundamental human rights. Fighting for religious freedom should be a central part of the United States’ relationship with China,” he said.