Interfaith leaders slam US law firm lobbying for Chinese gov’t, other repressive regimes

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 18, 2017.
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 18, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Aly Song)

An interfaith group of religious leaders and human rights activists asked one of America’s top international law firms Wednesday to stop representing foreign governments known for their repeated human rights abuses.

In a joint letter sent to the chairman of Squire Patton Boggs, 44 leaders and activists from various faiths and political backgrounds voiced their concerns about the Cleveland, Ohio-headquartered organization’s representation of foreign governments that are “among the world’s most aggressive persecutors of people of faith.”  

“It is deeply troubling to us that your prestigious firm and the many good people it employs are currently associated with and providing legal counsel, representation and other services to such nations,” the letter reads.

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SPB has 47 offices in 20 countries and has clients that range from local and national governments to large corporations and emerging businesses. Wednesday’s letter specifically calls out SPB’s relationship with the governments of China, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“Surely, Squire Patton Boggs’ attorneys and advisors — including former House Speaker John Boehner and other prominent, retired American lawmakers — and your firm’s other clients, have no desire to be associated with, let alone involved in defending or otherwise being implicated in, these governments’ odious practice,” the letter contends.

The letter is spearheaded by the grassroots organization Save the Persecuted Christians and its president, Frank Gaffney, a conservative security analyst and a former acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

“Save the Persecuted Christians is pleased to join with others determined to hold accountable those who persecute people of faith — including lobbyists who, as a practical matter, work to enable the persecutors to do so with impunity,” Gaffney said in a statement. “This is an important initiative in STPC’s effort to build a grassroots movement that will help create real costs to the perpetrators for their crimes against humanity.”

Included as a signatory in the joint letter is former Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican who is considered by many to be an icon in the international religious freedom movement and is the namesake of the 2016 International Religious Freedom Act.

Wolf has been vocal over the years about his concerns with SPB’s work for governments in countries like China and Sudan, among others.

Pastor Bob Fu, a religious freedom advocate who runs an influential Chinese religious freedom watchdog, the nongovernmental organization China Aid, also signed onto the letter. Fu has on different occasions testified before Congress about China’s abuses against Christians.

Signatories also include Foley Beach, the primate of the Anglican Church in North America; popular conservative Christian radio host Eric Metaxas; Greg Mitchell, a longtime lobbyist for the Church of Scientology and co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable; Omer Kanat, director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project; and Lily Zhang, director of government and advocacy for the Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) Association of Washington, D.C.

The letter notes that the communist government in China has systematically repressed every religious minority group in the country through means that include controlling what citizens can access on the internet.

The Uighur Muslim community has greatly been impacted by China’s intolerance to faith as hundreds of thousands of Uighurs have been imprisoned in concentration camps.

“Some such camps have reportedly, chillingly had crematoria installed for disposing of the bodies of those who die while interned,” the letter explains.

The letter also stresses that the Chinese government has destroyed countless underground Protestant and Catholic churches and regularly arrests pastors who are not registered with a state-sanctioned church. The letter adds that the Chinese government has begun offering rewards for information about secret worship gatherings.

As for other faiths, Falun Gong believers are being subjected to organ harvesting while Tibetan Buddhists are suffering from a “cultural genocide.”

As for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the leaders contend that the country is systematically repressing its own people, especially women.  

“The monarchy places a particular emphasis on the suppression of religious freedom at home,” the letter states. "As a result, Christians and other faith communities in the Kingdom risk imprisonment and gruesome corporal punishments, including decapitation.”

Last week, Saudi Arabia received much criticism from the international religious freedom community when 37 Saudi nationals, most of whom were Shi’a Muslims, were executed.

The joint letter also criticized the Saudi regime for promoting intolerance in its textbooks, mosques and overseas madrassas.

The leaders specifically pointed to the killing last year of journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“On the basis of the KPIs, unquestionably the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most egregious offenders of religious liberty and that is why it is a [a country of particular concern],” Commissioner Johnnie Moore from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said this week during the rollout of USCIRF’s annual report.

Moore was among a group of evangelical leaders who met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year as part of a USCIRF delegation that met with Saudi religious police.

Qatar is ranked as the 38th-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA. Open Doors warns that the Qatari government has engaged in “heavy persecution” of Christians.

The letter contends that Qatar is funding terrorist organizations like the Islamic State and propaganda outlets like Al Jazeera. The letter adds that Qatar is promoting intolerant practices worldwide toward people of other faiths or not faith at all.

“As advocates for suffering religious communities globally, we are determined to hold accountable those responsible,” the letter concludes. “We respectfully call upon your firm promptly and fully to disassociate itself from and cease all work on behalf of the governments of the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”

The Christian Post reached out to SPB for a response to the letter. A response is pending. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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