London Ministerial: What We Have Learned about China, Pakistan, and the World

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07/16/2022RUTH INGRAM

FEED THE POOR

Feeding the poor and needy is an act that draws us closer to Allah. We earn His forgiveness, mercies and blessings through this act of charity.

“Anyone who looks after and works for a widow and a poor person is like a warrior fighting for Allah?s cause, or like a person who fasts during the day and prays all night. (Bukhari)

The international Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief taught us that religious liberty is more threatened than even before, and only a global coalition can hope to achieve results.

by Ruth Ingram

In connection with the Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief, members of the U.K. Uyghur community gathered with supporters outside the Chinese Embassy in London. All photos by Ruth Ingram unless otherwise indicated.
In connection with the Ministerial, members of the U.K. Uyghur community gathered with supporters outside the Chinese Embassy in London. All photos by Ruth Ingram unless otherwise indicated.

Kurdistan’s Zoroastrian Kurds, Sikhs, Humanists, Christians, Afghan Hazaras, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Chinese amongst many others, together with their religious leaders and civil society grassroots groups from around the world, gathered in London to talk about suffering and persecution, but also hopes and dreams for a better world, and to pledge to work tirelessly to increase global action on freedom of religion or belief for all.

The overarching theme of the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB) from July 5-6th, organized by the British government following two previous FORB Ministerials in Washington DC and one in Warsaw, as hundreds of international delegates converged on London, was to call out and prevent FORB violations and abuses, which in many countries not only continue unabated and unchallenged but in some areas of the world are intensifying.

Erbakit Otarbay, a Xinjiang internment camp survivor, addressing the July 5th protest to remember the Urumqi massacre,  outside the London Chinese Embassy.
Erbakit Otarbay, a Xinjiang internment camp survivor, addressing the July 5th protest to remember the Urumqi massacre, outside the London Chinese Embassy.

The U.K. became a co-founding member of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance in 2020 and in two years global membership has increased from 27 to 35 countries. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, hosting the event, declared “the freedom to believe, to pray, to commit acts of worship or indeed not to believe is a fundamental human freedom and has been since the dawn of time.” Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury called on leaders to “allow freedoms of expression and worship,” without which “other freedoms are lost.”

Left to right, David Alton, the Bishop of Truro, the Right Revd. Philip Mounstephen, and Mervin Thomas, of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, during the Parliament Square vigil held in connection with the Ministerial to commemorate the Urumqi massacre of Uyghurs, 13 years ago.
Left to right, David Alton, the Bishop of Truro, the Right Revd. Philip Mounstephen, and Mervyn Thomas, of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, during the Parliament Square vigil held in connection with the Ministerial to commemorate the Urumqi massacre of Uyghurs, 13 years ago.

Killings and abductions of Christians in Nigeria, death sentences, and mob violence against those accused unjustly of blasphemy in Pakistan, torture, rape, and illegal incarceration of millions of Western China’s Uyghurs, suicide bombings carried out on Afghanistan’s Hazara community, and unspeakable outrages meted out against North Koreans were a small sample of atrocities raging around the world that had the ears of the international community.

Rahima Mahmut, head of the U.K. World Uyghur Congress spoke passionately at a side event about the ongoing suffering of her people and Lord David Alton raised the importance of detecting the beginnings of genocide but regretted his own government’s failure to put into place “adequate mechanisms to prevent genocides from happening over and over again.”

Uyghur women holding up the faces of internment camp detainees discovered during the leak of police files from Xinjiang’s police stations.
Uyghur women holding up the faces of internment camp detainees discovered during the leak of police files from Xinjiang’s police stations.

Lord Alton, once described as “the conscience of the House” (of Lords) was seen in several side events flagging up human rights violations in such diverse areas as Eritrea, China, Tibet, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He pointed out the discrimination embedded in Pakistani textbooks whereby Christianity and other non-Muslim faiths were portrayed as inferior. To illustrate his point he cited a paragraph in a tenth grade textbook. “Because the Muslim religion, culture and social system are different from non-Muslims, it is impossible to cooperate with Hindus,” he read. “A review of the curriculum demonstrates that public school students are being taught that religious minorities, especially Christians and Hindus, are nefarious, violent, and tyrannical by nature,” he said, quoting from the 2016 US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Hindu and Christian students are bullied and humiliated and even occasionally killed for their beliefs, he said, adding that students are frequently invited to abandon their own religions and embrace Islam, which in turn causes many of them to feel rejected and to leave school altogether with no qualifications.

Berna, a young member of the Uyghur community, showing her drawing during the Parliament Square protest. Her message to Allah was “Can you please help us to get away China from us.” (Photo taken by Uyghur community representative Mahire, and used with permission from her parents).
Berna, a young member of the Uyghur community, showing her drawing during the Parliament Square protest. Her message to Allah was “Can you please help us to get away China from us.” (Photo taken by Uyghur community representative Mahire, and used with permission from her parents).

Joined by Baroness Kennedy QC, Lord Alton raised the urgent need to address the persecution of the Hazara in Afghanistan and the Yazidis, and the imminent risk of genocide against both communities. “An ocean of impunity exists in relation to the Yazidi genocide,” he said quoting an article in the Guardian urging Turkey to be called to account and face an international court over their genocide.

The Jubilee Campaign, in collaboration with Set My People Free and Humanists UK spoke out against the criminalization of apostasy, and the death penalty for these “crimes” which is still carried out in twelve countries of the world. Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan (that has currently tens of Christian converts on death row), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and some northern states of Nigeria were cited for their hostile environment for those who “dare” to leave Islam. Nigerian student, 22 year old Deborah Samuel Yakubu, has been stoned to death and set on fire by classmates for  simply criticizing their WhatsApp group’s undue focus on religious content and for crediting her faith in Jesus for her exam success.

The groups have recommended the insertion of FORB-specific language into two United Nations General Assembly resolutions that are up for vote again this November, and a recommendation that, “the death penalty can never be imposed as a sanction for non-violent conduct such as apostasy and blasphemy.”

Uyghurs gathered during the Ministerial to protest the mowing down of innocent demonstrators in Urumqi 13 years ago, in front of the Chinese embassy in London. They were holding pictures of detainees printed from the leaked cache of Xinjiang Police Files and demanding to know their whereabouts.
Uyghurs gathered during the Ministerial to protest the mowing down of innocent demonstrators in Urumqi 13 years ago, in front of the Chinese embassy in London. They were holding pictures of detainees printed from the leaked cache of Xinjiang Police Files and demanding to know their whereabouts.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) was responsible for side events ranging from the ongoing persecution in Eritrea, religious extremism in South Asia and the vulnerability of faith groups campaigning for democracy in Myanmar and Sudan, to the suffering of Tibetans, Christians and Uyghurs in China, women fighting for freedom in Latin America and human and faith rights in Cuba and Nigeria.

The Bishop of Truro, the Right Revd. Philip Mounstephen, addressing the crowds gathered to remember the Uyghur fallen in Urumqi, 2009.
The Bishop of Truro, the Right Revd. Philip Mounstephen, addressing the crowds gathered to remember the Uyghur fallen in Urumqi, 2009.

Founder president of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, speaking at a simultaneous Uyghur protest event outside Parliament House to remember the fallen of the Urumqi massacre in 2009, reminded those assembled that atrocities and genocides were ongoing. He had been shocked to hear of the numbers of Uyghurs that were being taken to so-called “transformation through education” camps in North West China. “People have been taken away from their families, women have been sterilized. This is nothing but genocide.” He promised Uyghurs gathered to mourn the thousands of peaceful protesters mown down at night by machine gun fire thirteen years ago, that his organization CSW and other groups committed to their cause, would stand by them.

“We will not be quiet on this issue. We will continue to stand up and speak out until every person is freed and until this situation is changed,” he said. “Until the Communist Party realize that human rights and the freedom of religion and belief are important to the rest of the world, we all need to stand up and speak out. We will be calling on our governments around the world. The plight of the Uyghurs has already been mentioned a number of times during the ministerial conference and we will continue to do that till they are free,” he said.

Mervin Thomas of CSW promising to stand with the Uyghurs.
Mervyn Thomas of CSW promising to stand with the Uyghurs.

Pledges were made by all attendees, governments and decision makers listened to the pleas, minority groups spoke up and hopes were raised. In common with all groups, CSW’s sentiments were echoed across London in halls, churches, side rooms and seats of power. “The International Ministerial comes at a key moment for communities of faith and belief around the world, with refugees fleeing Afghanistan and Ethiopia/Eritrea, China introducing even wider restrictions on religious life, and communities in Nigeria under attack in a manner which may indicate an emerging genocide,” the group urged in its ministerial briefing. “Global issues require global solutions. Itʼs only when those in power get round the table, and with input from NGOs and activists, that leaders can formulate a coordinated response in a way that drives action.”

Uyghur children, part of the Chinese embassy protest, holding photos of the disappeared.
Uyghur children, part of the Chinese embassy protest, holding photos of the disappeared.

source https://bitterwinter.org/ministerial-conference-freedom-of-religion-2022/

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