Brussels: Members of European Parliament Bas Belder (ECR), Christian Dan Preda (EPP) and Josef Weidenholzer (S&D) hosted a two-hour long conference on ‘Freedom of Religion in China’ in the European Parliament on 23 January.
The session was attended by a jam-packed audience of MEPs, their assistants, diplomats, members of NGOs, press and public. Representative Tashi Phuntsok and EU Advocacy Officer Rigzin Choedon Genkhang of Office of Tibet Brussels participated as well.
Mr Preda, in his introductory speech, highlighted two areas of concern with regard to the lack of freedom of religion in China: Tibet and Catholic religion.
He elucidated more on Tibet, recalling the European Parliament’s urgency resolution of Larung Gar last year and its destruction and seizure by the Chinese authorities.
Mr Belder made general remarks on the subject and invited speakers to take the floor. While Mr Bob Fu of China Aid made an overview presentation of lack of freedom of religion in China, Mr Omar Bekali, Uighur residing in the US made an emotional testimony on the current internment of Uighurs in East Turkistan. He alleged that organs of the internees are being harvested by China. Uighur women in desperation to save their family members would enlist to marry Han Chinese. He also highlighted the gender disparity in China due to the one-child policy.
Other speakers were Father Bernardo Cerveillera on Catholics in China, Mr Respinti of Bitter Winter, a new online magazine and finally on overview by Mr Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.
Representative Tashi Phuntsok, in his intervention, acknowledged the pain and suffering of the Uighur people and other people of faith in China. For he said, sinicisation, re-education and concentration camps, laogai—that the speakers elaborated with so much pain and anguish—are not new to Tibetans. Tibetans have borne these forms of repression under China for last 60 years.
He continued, “Tibet today, in full view of the world, is the second least free country after Syria, according to the US-based Freedom House. It’s harder to travel to Tibet than North Korea. Under the grid system, everyone is a watchman and all villages, fortresses. Getting a passport is harder for a Tibetan than getting into heaven. For 60 years China has been using all and every wherewithal of a colonial power to wipe away Tibet from the face of this earth.”
“But Tibet is alive, not dead, because of the support of the free world,” he said. “For the people of East Turkistan, it’s especially relevant because the Chinese Party Secretary there is the one who had been promoted and sent from Tibet. All the instruments of repression that people in East Turkistan are perpetrated with today were fine-tuned and harshly implemented first in Tibet.”
He further said that at the global level, China is being seen openly undermining the democratic and open society of the West. “The values of the European Union are under threat and the integrity of Union is now tested as never before. Therefore, the EU-China Summits should accrue practical results to strengthen the visions of the EU. The annual EU-China human rights dialogue must be meaningful and substantive.”
“The EU is now called upon to bear the mantle of leadership of the free world. Otherwise very soon every element of life, government, basic values and international relations worldwide may bear the unmistakable stamp of Chinese characteristics. The values of the free world and the EU may be lost,” he concluded.
MEP Weidenholzer, while closing the conference, was struck with the pathos of the conference. He wondered how could the people of China, who visited his country in droves, appreciating the beauty of the country and listening to the music of Beethoven and Strauss, should be party to such “horrendous” perpetration of repression on people of faith. Ways to address the situation must be found, he said and ended the conference.
-Filed by Office of Tibet, Brussels