US Supports Forming Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China
March 5, 2019 Updated: March 5, 2019
WASHINGTON—For the first time ever, persecuted faith groups in China and human rights organizations are forming a coalition to advance religious freedom in China, with the backing of the Trump administration and members of congress.
Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, and Rep. James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), the newly appointed chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) and co-Chair of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, joined representatives from persecuted faith groups in China. They vowed to advocate for and defend religious freedom in China at a press conference announcing formation of the Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China (CARFC) in Washington on Mar. 4, 2019.
Brownback said, “I am here to add the administration’s support.”
“We are deeply concerned by the Chinese government’s tightening restrictions on religious practice, including for Protestants, Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslims, the Falun Gong and others,” Brownback said.
Brownback pointed out that in recent years new regulations were implemented to penalize all unregistered religious activities, including foreigners’ religious activities.
“We are here today to give you a chance to hear from the groups that are affected by these actions, and to officially recognize the launch of the Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China by the International Religious Freedom Roundtable.
“We believe religious freedom is a universal human right…It is a fundamental right. Our country was founded on it. It is in the Chinese Constitution. It is in the UN Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights. We believe that every person around the world should be free to believe or not to believe, as they see fit.”
McGovern said he was happy to see that so many organizations have decided to come together, transcending cultural, ethnic, and doctrinal differences, to work hard on religious freedom of China.
McGovern said he came to show support, “to reiterate my commitment to do all I can as a member of congress to help bring the persecution to an end.”
“Last week the speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi re-appointed me as the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and newly appointed me as the chairman of the CECC. So I have some tools on hand, and I plan to use them to the best of my ability. ”
McGovern said he would do everything he could not only to raise the visibility of human rights violations in China, but also to help Americans understand why what happens in China matters.
Noting that 2019 is the 20th anniversary of Falun Gong’s persecution in China, McGovern said to reporters, “The issue of Falun Gong is something we care very deeply about. We are going to explore options in the month ahead.”
Former Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) made a passionate speech, calling for special attention be paid to the 100 plus Confucius Institutes in U. S. universities, as well as to western companies that sell products to China that fuel human rights abuses.
He said, every college that has a Confucius Institute should invite Catholic priests, Protestant pastors, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners to speak, “and if they do not do that, they should be removed from the campus.”
A United Force
Greg Mitchell, chair of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, said that Congressman Wolf, Ambassador Brownback and others had been recommending for quite a while that all the persecuted groups be united and become “one unit, one team and speak with one voice… and we are finally doing it now.”
“By forming a Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China, persecuted faith communities again unite their voices in support of religious freedom for all in China.”
Mitchell said that the coalition was still in its initial stage. They expect more groups to join, and they are going to organize more activities to “try to put pressure on the U.S. government to take further concrete actions, to put sanctions on China.”
Mitchell believed that the coalition would have a strong impact as a united force.
As one of the coalition members, Louisa Greve, director of External Affairs, Uyghur Human Rights Project, laid out some concrete steps to take, including “urging the use of the Global Magnitsky Act to hold Chinese government officials responsible for the well-documented campaign of oppression targeting Uyghurs and other ethno-religious communities in the Uyghur Region,” and passing the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act and the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act.
Dr. Han Lianchao, vice president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, called for a tougher stance against Huawei and China Electronics Technology Group, which helped the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to establish a surveillance system throughout China that was worse than what had been described in Orwell’s “1984.”
Experiences of Persecution
Representatives from several persecuted faith groups shared their experiences.
Li Kunrui, former police officer in Dalian City in China, said that the police had an arrest quota to meet when the CCP decided to crackdown on religious groups. Sometimes when the police could not arrest enough people, they had to seek help from other police stations that had arrested more than their quota.
Li said that police often used hotel rooms to detain and torture people, as they didn’t have to abide by legal procedures there, such as recording the interrogation process, as required by law. So in the hotel rooms the police could torture people madly.
Kuzzat Altay, Founder & President, Uyghur Entrepreneurs Network, said that he had lost contact with his 67-year-old father in Xinjiang since last February. The last voice message his father sent to him was, “Son, they are taking me.”
Altay said he didn’t know whether his father is still alive or not, as he had health problems. Altay’s 70-year-old aunt had already passed away in the re-education camp.
Altay said, “according to us, there are at least 3 million people in the concentration camps.”
Altay said that the CCP’s claim that the Uyghurs are in the camps for vocational training was a sheer lie. People like Tashpolat Teyip, former president of Xinjiang University and Halmurat Ghopur, president of Xinjiang Medical University, are detained in the camps. These people don’t need any vocational training at all.
Altay said his best high school friend was taken to the hospital for a blood and urine test. Since then his family had lost track of him, and they worry that he could have been killed for his organs.
Altay said that since there were not enough camps to hold all the Uyghurs, CCP officials now are living inside the Uyghur homes to monitor them. Some Uyghur girls have been raped; some “willingly” married those officials in order to save their families.
Bhuchung Tsering, vice president of International Campaign for Tibet, said that since 2009, 155 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest the CCP’s cultural and religious genocide.
Yu Ming, a Falun Gong practitioner and a businessman who escaped from China at the end of 2018, spent nearly 12 years in jails and labor camps. He said he was repeatedly stripped naked by 6-7 policemen and shocked with 300,000 volt high-voltage batons. He was once tied onto an iron chair for three months. The police used an awl and toothpick to prick his nails as part of the effort to force him to give up his belief.
When Yu Ming and Sean Lin, representing the Washington Falun Dafa Association, spoke on the stage, a dozen other Falun Gong practitioners stood behind them, holding photos of family members or lawyers who are still jailed in China, either for practicing or defending Falun Gong.