The Open Doors Advocacy team recently co-hosted a conference on digital persecution - the new froniter of persecution against religious minorities.
Digital persecution is at the forefront of persecution affecting Christians and other religious minorities today, and it is a sphere that is increasing rapidly. It has been described as the new frontier for persecution, and needs a new response. Recently, Open Doors held an academic conference in partnership with the Universities of Roehampton and Birmingham on digital persecution and the dangers that advances in technology have caused for Christians and other religious minorities concerning their right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).
The aim of the conference was to start a discussion with some key thinkers and researchers in the technology, FoRB and human rights spheres so that they could consider the impacts of technological advances (both good and bad) for religious and ethnic minorities, and to highlight what needs to be done and what actions need to be incorporated into policy to defend the right to freedom of religion or belief.
The conference started with some opening words from Prof. Francis Davis and Dr David Landrum, who framed the purpose and discussions for the day. The talks focused on three main categories of digital persecution: surveillance, censorship, and disinformation.
As Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for FoRB, Fiona Bruce MP was present to hear the talks and raise issues in government afterwards. She spoke about the dedication and commitment she has in this role to act upon anything coming out of the discussions and, following the conference, scheduled a debate in parliament on digital persecution.
"Digital genocide is happening in China against my people" Rahima Mahmut
Rahima Mahmut, a Uighur Muslim from China, was able to share her harrowing insights into human rights abuses through technology in China, which she described as a 'twentieth-century digital genocide that is happening in China against my people’.
Mahmut quoted the former Chinese Communist Party secretary, Chuncheng, who said: “We must respond to the new ways in which hostile forces and terrorists are plotting crimes by implementing all-encompassing, round-the-clock, three-dimensional prevention, under control to resolutely ensure that there are no blind-spots, no gaps, no blanks unfilled.”
Throughout the day, delegates were able to attend various seminars and panel discussions about different areas of concern, including online extremism in Indonesia, the use of technology by the junta in Myanmar to oppress minorities, data protection artificial intelligence ethics, international human rights law, and the impact of so-called ‘smart’ technologies on Christians in China.
In a speech by Sam Brownback, the threw a spotlight on how digital surveillance imposed by the Chinese Communist Party is curtailing religious freedoms. “We want this internet firewall in China torn down and we don't want other authoritarian countries to put up such a firewall so that their people can't get access to information,” he said.
Overall, it was a very successful day and a start to a hugely important discussion about the challenges and dangers of technological advancements on religious minorities.
Following this conference, Open Doors hope to collate papers from delegates to contribute to a report on digital persecution. With the International Ministerial to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief taking place in London this July, we hope to be able to share this report and raise the issues which technologies pose for the persecuted church.
If you would like more information about the conference, or want to see a recording, you can email the Advocacy team at email@example.com.
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