FEATURE: Human Rights Violated in China: ‘Erasing’ Uyghurs’ Identity

Presented by US Embassy to Holy See in Rome

FEATURE: Human Rights Violated in China: ‘Erasing’ Uyghurs’ Identity
Faithful of China gathered to see Pope in Vatican © Vatican Media
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Human Rights continue to be severely violated in China. For this reason, the US Embassy to the Holy See hosted a virtual symposium on the issue, and especially the heinous crimes against Uyghurs and other religious minorities, Tuesday, May 11. Exaudi’s Senior Vatican Correspondent followed the event which brought together experts on the matter.

“Human Rights in China: Uyghurs and Religious Minorities” was moderated by veteran Vatican journalist, John Allen, Jr, and US Embassy to the Vatican’s Chargé d’Affaires, Patrick Connell, gave opening remarks. Also speaking were Rachel Harris, Professor of Ethnomusicology at SOAS – University of London; Gulchehra Hoja, journalist of Radio Free Asia; and Marcela Szymanski, Editor-in-Chief of “Religious Freedom in the World” of Aid to the Church in Need.

The Absence Which Spoke Volumes

Also expected to speak was Dr. Harri Uyghur, Founder of Uyghur Aid, but he could not ultimately partake. Allen noted that his absence, “spoke for itself.” According to his embassy biography, Dr. Harri Uyghur was born in Xinjiang, China, and is now a citizen of Finland, where he is a practicing physician. In 2017, his parents, Chinese nationals, were detained in Uyghur internment camps in Xinjiang.

Dr. Uyghur started the #FreeMyParents campaign that helped his parents regain their freedom in 2018, and, that same year, he founded Uyghur Aid, an international non-profit human rights organization committed to promoting and protecting human rights and religious freedom in Xinjiang and abroad. Uyghur Aid documents the systematic persecution, harassment, torture, and imprisonment of Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang.

Having traveled to 26 different countries to highlight the Chinese government’s genocide of Uyghurs, Dr. Uyghur and his human rights activism, advocacy, and leadership role of Uyghur diaspora have been featured in prominent international media. Despite his palpable absence, the distinguished panel of experts to examine the CCP’s attack on religious freedom in the Asian superpower.

Genocide at Every Level

Gulcherha Hoja of Radio Free Asia warned: “The Chinese Government has sent at least 24 members of my family to the concentration camps and have accused me as a terrorist because of my work as a journalist.” “What we are witnessing,” she said, “is not new and we are allowing history to repeat itself.”

“What we are facing,” she decried, “is genocide at every level.”

Worst Crackdown on Religion Since Cultural Revolution

Chargé Connell evidenced that Muslim Uyghurs, ethnic Kazaks, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups “have suffered unspeakable atrocities” under China’s authoritarian government.

“Their cultural, language, and religious traditions are under threat of being erased through an intrusive and high-tech state that criminalizes religious or cultural expression,” he admonished.

Noting the United States “has taken decisive steps to deter China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang and to bring attention to the Uyghur crisis,” he underscored that “public acknowledgement of the egregious human rights abuses in China is an important step toward holding the Chinese government accountable.”

“China is among those nations where freedom of religion or belief is significantly and dangerously on the decline,” he deplored, recognizing how its government has “gravely increased repression of all religions.”

He pointed out that as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s expanding “Sinicization” policy, which aims to bring religions even further under Communist Party control, China began enforcing new religious regulations May 1st.

“The new law requires members of the clergy to prove that they “support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support the socialist system.”  These new regulations, he suggested, give the government even more power to control where people worship, with whom they worship, and how they can practice their faith.

“Incredibly, anyone under the age of 18 is prohibited from participating in religious activities, including attending Mass or praying in a Mosque. The aim of such a law is clearly designed to destroy the bonds of faith among young people and slowly drain the life from religious groups.”

“Members of Catholic communities in China face other severe restrictions and limitations on their right to worship freely, with reports of government officials forcibly closing hundreds of churches, arresting Catholic bishops, priests, and nuns, and even forbidding them from engaging in any religious activity in their capacity as clergy.” Adding that there’s pressure on schools to check up on the religious beliefs of their students and staff, he conveyed: “Some have called this the worst crackdown on religion since the Cultural Revolution.”

Plot to ‘Erase’ Uyghur Culture & Identity

John Allen, an expert in Christian persecution globally, with much experience on the ground, underscored: “There are real human beings paying the price of the situation we are attempting to describe today.”

“China,” Marcela Szymanski reminded, “has been for many years at the top of any list of human rights violators,” adding the superpower “is mixing sophisticated mass surveillance technology and economic rewards for abandoning religious practices.”

“This,” Professor Harris also condemned, “is a campaign implemented at the highest levels of government which is not only cracking down on religious practice, but really about erasing Uyghur culture and identity.”

One can watch the video of “Human Rights in China: Uyghurs and Religious Minorities” here.

Below is Chargé d’Affaires Patrick Connell’s full remarks, courtesy of the US Embassy to the Holy See.

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CHARGÉ PATRICK CONNELL’S REMARKS ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHINA

Human Rights in China: Uyghurs and Religious Minorities” Virtual Discussion

Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires Patrick Connell

11 May, 2021

Good afternoon.

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, friends: welcome to our panel discussion entitled, “Human Rights in China: Uyghurs and Religious Minorities.” Thank you all for joining us today. My name is Patrick Connell and I’m the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

At the outset, I want to thank our moderator, John Allen, and our distinguished panel of experts for their participation in this very timely event on the state of religious freedom in the world, and especially the human rights crisis in China.

Our program today comes at an urgent moment for the cause of religious freedom. More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where the freedom to practice their own faith is either threatened or outright prohibited. People across the globe are oppressed, beaten, and even killed for simply seeking to practice their faith or live according to their beliefs or their conscience,- things we take for granted every day.

China is among those nations where freedom of religion or belief is significantly and dangerously on the decline. Its government has gravely increased repression of all religions.

As part of the Chinese Communist Party’s expanding “Sinicization” policy,which aims to bring religions even further under Communist Party control, China began enforcing new religious regulations May 1st. The new law requires members of the clergy to prove that they “support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support the socialist system.”  This is in a country where the Communist Party officially recognizes only five religions: Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam. These new regulations give the government even more power to control where people worship, with whom they worship, and how they can practice their faith.  Incredibly, anyone under the age of 18 is prohibited from participating in religious activities, including attending Mass or praying in a Mosque. The aim of such a law is clearly designed to destroy the bonds of faith among young people and slowly drain the life from religious groups.

Members of Catholic communities in China face other severe restrictions and limitations on their right to worship freely, with reports of government officials forcibly closing hundreds of churches, arresting Catholic bishops, priests, and nuns, and even forbidding them from engaging in any religious activity in their capacity as clergy. There’s pressure on schools to check up on the religious beliefs of their students and staff. Some have called this the worst crackdown on religion since the Cultural Revolution.

But Christians certainly are not alone in their harsh treatment in China. Muslim Uyghurs, ethnic Kazaks, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups have suffered unspeakable atrocities under China’s authoritarian government. Their cultural, language, and religious traditions are under threat of being erased through an intrusive and high-tech state that criminalizes religious or cultural expression.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made clear that China is committing, “genocide and crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang, in western China.

Beijing has detained more than one million, predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, in a sprawling network of mass internment camps in Xinjiang. Detainees face torture, forced labor, and death. Family members don’t know the whereabouts of their loved ones, or even whether they’re dead or alive.

Even for those living outside the internment camps, life takes on dystopian features, including mass surveillance, the involuntary sterilization of women, forced abortions, the removal of children from their families, and the dispatching of hundreds of thousands of people into forced residential labor programs in factories and farms. Symbols of Uyghur culture and religion, including mosques and sites of pilgrimage, are being destroyed.

This repression should serve as a chilling notice to all faithful in China – and to others around the world who understand the importance of fundamental rights, including the right to practice one’s faith or belief.

The Biden Administration has taken decisive steps to deter China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang and to bring attention to the Uyghur crisis. The United States has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and government entities and banned and seized imports believed to be made with forced labor.

Amid growing international condemnation, on March 22nd, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Canada coordinated announcements on sanctions against human rights abusers in connection with the atrocities occurring in Xinjiang. And the UK House of Commons and the parliaments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada have joined us in accusing Beijing of genocide.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis was quoted last November as saying Muslim Uyghurs are a “persecuted people.” Public acknowledgement of the egregious human rights abuses in China is an important step toward holding the Chinese government accountable.

However, China continues to intimidate those who publicly criticize its actions, sanctioning countries, boycotting brands, and issuing travel restrictions on individuals. These tactics are intended to signal to others there will be consequences for speaking out against human rights abuses in China. Dr. Harri Uyghur, our fourth panelist and a Uyghur human rights activist, is sadly unable to be a part of our discussion today due to concerns for his safety and the wellbeing of his family. This is yet another example of the successful efforts to silence voices speaking out against the oppression of Uyghurs and other religious minorities. Another of our panelists will share her experience of reprisal after speaking out.

In the face of these pressures, the international community, across governments and in concert with civil society, needs to come together to condemn the abuses and call for the respect of religious freedom, dignity, and cultural heritage in China.

Future generations will rightly ask what we did to hold China accountable in the face of such crimes and the strong body of evidence and witness testimony to the truth.

Today, we have an outstanding panel of experts who will help shed light on that truth – on what is happening in China and why the government of the United States, and many others, are calling the atrocities in western China a genocide.

Our moderator John Allen will introduce each of our panelists, but I would like quickly to welcome and say a thank you to each of our guests: Marcela Szymanski is the editor-in-chief of the bi-annual report “Religious Freedom in the World published by the Papal Foundation Aid to the Church in Need. Rachel Harris is Professor of Ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London; and Gulcherha Hoja, an award-winning journalist, is with Radio Free Asia. Thank you for being with us and I am honored to have each of you here today.


Deborah Castellano Lubov is Editorial Director & Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for EXAUDI (& Prior, for ZENIT); Author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/
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