HomeNewsChinese foreign ministry upset over pope saying Uyghurs are persecuted

Chinese foreign ministry upset over pope saying Uyghurs are persecuted

Meanwhile, activists and China watchers describe pope’s comment as overdue and that more should be said

The Chinese foreign ministry has dismissed Pope Francis’ criticism of China’s treatment of Muslim Uyghurs as groundless, while some human rights activists and China watchers have claimed the pope’s remarks are overdue.

In a new book “Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future,” Pope Francis said: “I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uyghurs, the Yazidi.”

It was the first time the pope has publicly called China’s Uyghurs a persecuted people, something human rights activists have been urging him to do for years.

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian rejected his characterization of the Uyghurs.

“The Chinese government has always protected the legal rights of ethnic minorities equally,” he told a media briefing on Nov. 25.

People of all ethnicities in Xinjiang enjoy full protection of their subsistence rights, developmental rights and religious freedom, Zhao said.

“The remarks by Pope Francis are groundless,” he said.

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​While the pope has spoken out before about the Rohingya who have fled Myanmar and the killing of Yazidi by Islamic State in Iraq, it was the first time he has mentioned the Uyghurs.

The pope’s mentioning of the persecuted Uyghurs has been welcomed by human rights activists and China watchers but more than one have noted how long it took for something to be said.

“Finally, the pope speaks up about the persecution of Uyghurs,” tweeted the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project.

“I don’t know how to say ‘better late than never’ in Latin,” tweeted Sophie Richardson the China director at Human Rights Watch.

This photo taken on May 31, 2019 shows watchtowers on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. As many as one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in a network of internment camps in Xinjiang. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP)

Some, such as Gady Epstein, The Economist’s China affairs editor, commented that the pope’s recognition of the Uyghur’s situation was tucked away in a book.

“It tells you a lot that this is news. It sounds like it’s a passing mention in a new book,” tweeted Epstein. “The Vatican recently renewed a deal with China over bishop selection, and has, aside from this brief aside, kept totally silent about the Uyghurs,” he said.

The accord with Beijing on the appointment of bishops was renewed in September.

Faith leaders, activist groups and governments have said crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place against Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region, where more than 1 million people are held in camps.

In a letter released on Aug. 8, faith leaders from around the world, including Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo and Indonesia’s Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, called for urgent action on a “potential genocide” against the Uyghurs.

The religious leaders said the “repression” in Xinjiang has become “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust.” The letter also expressed solidarity with Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and Chinese Christians, who are facing “the worst crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution.”

Last month, during a conference at the Vatican, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted China over its treatment of Uyghurs.

Beijing has rejected such allegations as an attempt to discredit China, saying the camps in Xinjiang are vocational education and training centers as part of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures.

With Reuters

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