The coronavirus pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed more than 7,500 people and threatened the global economy.
And now it’s being blamed for a loss of religious freedom in nations such as China and Iran, and even the United States, where churches services have been canceled due to restrictions on public gatherings.
The warning comes from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the independent monitor commissioned by Congress.
The Washington Examiner reports the commission found fault with China for its treatment of Uighur Muslims, “who have reportedly been forced to continue working in Wuhan factories during the city’s quarantine, despite the high risk of contracting the disease.”
The Uighurs that have been quarantined have also faced discrimination, USCIRF said, with Chinese authorities “limiting their access to food and demanding payment for basic necessities.”
China has put some 1 million Uighur and other Muslims in concentration camps, where a viral infection could be a “disaster,” USCIRF said.
The situation is similar in Iran, USCIRF found.
“The country has the largest outbreak of the virus in the Middle East, with many high-ranking officials contracting it because of the country’s lack of access to medical supplies. After the death of Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of Iran’s Expediency Council, in early March, the Iranian government blocked the nation’s access to Wikipedia to prevent unrest. At least 12 members of the Iranian regime have died from the coronavirus,” the report said.
Other countries where religious rights are being restricted in response to the outbreak include South Korea, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates and Tajikistan.
In Takijistan, an Islamic fatwa called on clergy to shut down mosques and cancel holiday events.
In the Republic of Georgia, a church used a shared spoon for communion rituals, giving public health officials concern.
In the UAE, officials suspended children’s Bible classes and banned children from all other church activities. Lectures and sermons also were forbidden.
In Saudi Arabia, foreigners were banned from traveling to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina because of infections there.
In Italy, hit hard by the virus, entire regions were quarantined and religious services suspended.
“Around the northern city of Milan, worshippers are only allowed to visit churches for private prayer and cannot sit together in large groups,” the report said.
The report said that at Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea, member who got sick suffered persecution.
“Although some government measures appeared to be driven by legitimate public health concerns, others appeared to exaggerate the church’s role in the outbreak,” USCIRF said. “The government of Seoul locked down Shincheonji churches in the capital, and some mainline Protestant groups have accused the church of deliberately spreading the disease.”
The report said there are several international accords that protect religious rights, including some that “use similar language in providing robust protections to FoRB, and in defining the circumstances under which states may lawfully limit it in furtherance of an identified state interest, including public health.”