Open Doors, a persecution watchdog and Christian support group, has warned that religious minorities are being targeted on digital platforms across the world and that they face an “Orwellian existence.”
In a recent report, Open Doors emphasized that surveillance technology and the monitoring of social media by nation states, along with digital censorship and disinformation, are technological tools used to coerce and control marginalized communities.
Open Doors, which supplies Bibles, trains church leaders and offers support and emergency relief to Christians in regions that are closed or hostile to the Christian faith, published the report in association with the University of Birmingham and the University of Roehampton in England.
Titled “Digital Persecution: The New Frontier for Freedom of Religion or Belief,” the report was released July 5 at the first UK International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London.
“We watch on as mobs and terror groups around the world are making use of digital platforms to tighten their grip over religious minorities,” said David Landrum, director of advocacy and media for Open Doors UK. “Most shocking of all, governments are turning a blind eye to this, or even actively encouraging the violent, oppressive behavior.”
He pointed out that “all forms of digital persecution are growing at frightening pace and leaving the potential enforcers far behind in their wake.”
The report referred to the widespread use of surveillance technology to attack religious communities in China, and the role of online disinformation in inciting aggression toward religious minorities in India.
The report also highlights how digital persecution is on the rise in countries in Africa and Asia. In Myanmar, the report notes, online stories endanger Christians and other minorities by blaming them for spreading COVID-19. And in Libya, certain groups monitor the internet to target people who access online Christian resources. And despite these concerns, governments and technology companies are doing little or nothing to address the threats.
For example, the new technoscape of persecution was conspicuously absent from the latest human rights report by Britain's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Of note and in further evidence of this omission, Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, made no mention of digital persecution in her July 5 keynote address at the UK conference.
Besides urging the British government to make research and action on digital persecution a priority, Open Doors recommends that the government cooperate with international institutions to formulate ethical standards regarding the production and export of surveillance technologies.
The report’s other recommendations include calling for digital companies and social media platforms to take steps to counter online disinformation and resist demands for censorship by authoritarian governments, thereby upholding human rights and civil liberties.
Sam Brownback, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, warned in a foreword to the report that Chinese authorities have transformed Xinjiang, China’s only Muslim-majority province, into “a laboratory” for “technological oppression.”
“The Uyghurs there have effectively become a marketing tool to sell these technologies all over the world—a beta test for a virtual police state,” he wrote. In recent years, Chinese authorities have incarcerated up to 1.8 million Uyghurs in more than 1,300 concentration-style camps, claiming this has been done based on suspicion of terrorism. The U.S. and parliaments in Europe and Canada have accused Beijing of committing genocide and crimes against humanity.
The report calls on countries to achieve consensus on how to deal with the technologies underlying digital persecution, and establish regulations to protect people.
Brownback called this “a defining moment for countries who value freedom and human rights.”
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.