By Deborah Castellano Lubov

“As religious leaders and leaders of belief-based communities, we come together to affirm human dignity for all by highlighting one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust: the potential genocide of the Uyghurs and other Muslims in China.”

This was expressed by numerous leaders of different religions around the world who have joined together to denounce these persecutions. Recently, Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), as well as Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, Archbishop of Jakarta, Indonesia, along with other Catholic representatives, and various other faith leaders worldwide, especially in Judaism and Islam, issued a strong statement against these human rights’ violations in China.

The statement was provided in its entirety to ZENIT English by Cardinal Bo and can be read below.

The religious leaders and leaders of belief-based communities joined together “to affirm human dignity for all by highlighting one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust: the potential genocide of the Uyghurs and other Muslims in China.”

They acknowledged that they have seen “many persecutions” and “mass atrocities,” which need their attention.

“But there is one,” they underscore, “that, if allowed to continue with impunity, calls into question most seriously the willingness of the international community to defend universal human rights for everyone – the plight of the Uyghurs.”

“At least one million Uyghur and other Muslims in China,” they decry, “are incarcerated in prison camps facing starvation, torture, murder, sexual violence, slave labour and forced organ extraction. Outside the camps, basic religious freedom is denied. Mosques are destroyed, children are separated from their families, and acts as simple as owning a Holy Quran, praying or fasting can result in arrest.”

The world’s “most intrusive surveillance state,” they state, “invades every aspect of life in Xinjiang.”

“Recent research reveals a campaign of forced sterilization and birth prevention targeting at least 80% of Uyghur women of childbearing age in the four Uyghur-populated prefectures – an action which, according to the 1948 Genocide Convention, could elevate this to the level of genocide.”

To eradicate

“The clear aim of the Chinese authorities,” they wrote, “is to eradicate the Uyghur identity.”

“China’s state media has stated,” they explain, “that the goal is to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.” As the Washington Post put it, “It’s hard to read that as anything other than a declaration of genocidal intent.” High-level Chinese government documents speak of “absolutely no mercy.’”

“Parliamentarians, governments and jurists,” they stress, “have a responsibility to investigate.”

“As faith leaders,” the signatories clarify, “we are neither activists nor policy-makers. But we have a duty to call our communities to their responsibilities to look after their fellow human beings and act when they are in danger.”

Never Again …

“In the Holocaust,” they recall, “some Christians and Muslims rescued Jews. Some spoke out. To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil … Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”. After the Holocaust, the world said “Never Again.””

“Today, we repeat those words “Never Again”, all over again.”

“We stand with the Uyghurs. We also stand with Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians throughout China who face the worst crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution,” they said.

The interfaith leaders go on to ask all people of faith and conscience everywhere “to join us: in prayer, solidarity and action to end these mass atrocities.”

“We make a simple call for justice, to investigate these crimes, hold those responsible to account and establish a path towards the restoration of human dignity.”

The message concludes with the various signatures.

This interfaith message follows Cardinal Bo’s own July 1 appeal for prayers, following the new National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong by China which could seriously threaten human freedoms and human rights. Decrying the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” he illustrated how it arguably puts freedom of religion at risk.

With regard to Hong Kong, in his message earlier this month, he said: “I am concerned that the law poses a threat to basic freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong, “stressing: “This legislation potentially undermines freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, media freedom and academic freedom.”

Most Severe Restrictions Experienced Since Cultural Revolution

“Arguably,” he said, “freedom of religion or belief is put at risk.”

According to many reports, Cardinal Bo pointed out, “freedom of religion or belief in Mainland China is suffering the most severe restrictions experienced since the Cultural Revolution.”

“Even if freedom of worship in Hong Kong is not directly or immediately affected, the new security law and its broad criminalization of “subversion”, “secession” and “colluding with foreign political forces” could result, for example, in the monitoring of religious preaching, the criminalization of candlelit prayer vigils, and the harassment of places of worship that offer sanctuary or sustenance to protesters. It is my prayer that this law will not give the government license to interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations and the services they provide to the general public.”

Clear assurance, he urged, should be given for my brother bishops and fellow priests as they prepare their homilies, Protestant clergy as they ponder their sermons, and for religious leaders of other faiths too who must instruct their communities. The participation of religious bodies in social affairs, he also asserted, should not be disturbed.

“Provisions in Hong Kong’s Basic Law guarantee freedom of belief,” he pointed out, asking: “Will religious leaders now be criminalized for preaching about human dignity, human rights, justice, liberty, truth? We have learned from heavy experience that wherever freedom as a whole is undermined, freedom of religion or belief – sooner or later – is affected.”

For these reasons and “in the spirit of the prophets, martyrs and saints of our faith,” the Asian prelate said, “I urge people to pray for Hong Kong today.”

For Freedom of Religion, I Will Go to the Ends of the Earth

Always on the the theme of religious persecution, in a July 14 declaration on the conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque in Turkey, Cardinal Bo reminded that freedom of religion or belief is a foundational human right for everyone, of every faith and none. The right to choose, practice, express and change one’s faith – or have no faith at all – is the most basic freedom for any soul.

The Asian prelate stressed he has “consistently and passionately defended this freedom for Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Christians of all traditions, in my own country of Myanmar and throughout Asia.”

“Indeed often,” Cardinal Bo recalled, “I have spoken in defense of the persecuted Muslim peoples in Myanmar, and I will go on doing so without hesitation and unequivocally. For true freedom of religion requires respect for others’ freedom to practice, as well as the exercise and defense of one’s own liberty.”

“For that reason, the decision in Turkey to turn what was for 1000 years the world’s largest Cathedral – Hagia Sophia – into a mosque,” he said, “grieves me.” As President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, he said, “it is incumbent on me to say so.”

“I work with my brothers and sisters from every major faith tradition every day of my life. And I will go to the ends of the earth,” he said, “to defend their rights.”

“I will defend,” the President of Asian Bishops said, “every mosque, every synagogue, every temple possible. And I know my fellow religious leaders working for peace would do the same for me. That’s the spirit we need – to respect and defend each other’s freedoms to worship as we wish, to express our faith in accordance with our traditions, to convert freely according to our conscience, but never to be coerced, never to impose and never to seize or grab.”

“In previous epochs of history, we know that the seizure of one another’s sacred and holy buildings and sites has caused untold distress and bitterness and, in our generation, we should not be so foolish as to repeat the mistakes of history.”

Stressing reciprocity is a human and natural virtue, he pleaded: “Let Hagia Sophia be.”

The Cardinal decries outlines various injustices toward Muslims and how he has spoken out likewise against them.

“In my country, Myanmar,” he said, “mosques have been razed to the ground and I have spoken out – frequently and at some risk.”

“In China,” he continued, “the Uyghur Muslims are facing what amounts to some of the contemporary world’s worst mass atrocities and I urge the international community to investigate. In India and Sri Lanka Muslims have faced appalling violence and I have condemned such inhumanity.”

“Similarly, in Indonesia,” he said, “Ahmadiyya Muslim mosques have been destroyed by other Muslims, and churches have been forcibly closed. In Iran the Baha’is face an intense assault on their freedoms, and in Syria and Iraq sacred places have been wantonly destroyed while, sadly, closer to home, we have seen the same phenomenon in China with shrines destroyed, the Cross removed from places of worship, and even churches, like Xiangbaishu Church in Yixing, demolished.”

“Turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque,” Cardinal Bo stated, “represents a similar undermining of freedom of religion or belief, love for each other, respect for the dignity of difference.”

“At a time when humanity is enduring intense strains due to the global pandemic,” he appealed, “we need to come together, not drive communities apart.” We must, he encouraged, “put aside identity politics, abandon power plays, prevent ethnic and religious conflicts and value the dignity of difference among every human being. And we must cherish diversity and the unity we find within it.”

“How does turning what was once the world’s largest cathedral into a mosque do anything except sow tensions, divide people and inflict pain? How does placing Hagia Sophia into the hands of people who have no sense of its history and heritage and who will destroy its Christian identity help bring people together? How does seizing Hagia Sophia uphold Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It doesn’t. It merely reopens wounds and exacerbates divides at a time when we should be healing humanity.”

Below is the statement of the interfaith leaders provided to ZENIT English by signatories, followed by the other statements referred to in the article, in their entirety:

***

STATEMENT BY FAITH LEADERS AND LEADERS OF BELIEF-BASED COMMUNITIES

As religious leaders and leaders of belief-based communities, we come together to affirm human dignity for all by highlighting one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust: the potential genocide of the Uyghurs and other Muslims in China.

We have seen many persecutions and mass atrocities. These need our attention. But there is one that, if allowed to continue with impunity, calls into question most seriously the willingness of the international community to defend universal human rights for everyone – the plight of the Uyghurs.

At least one million Uyghur and other Muslims in China are incarcerated in prison camps facing starvation, torture, murder, sexual violence, slave labour and forced organ extraction. Outside the camps, basic religious freedom is denied. Mosques are destroyed, children are separated from their families, and acts as simple as owning a Holy Quran, praying or fasting can result in arrest.

The world’s most intrusive surveillance state invades every aspect of life in Xinjiang. Recent research reveals a campaign of forced sterilization and birth prevention targeting at least 80% of Uyghur women of childbearing age in the four Uyghur-populated prefectures – an action which, according to the 1948 Genocide Convention, could elevate this to the level of genocide.

The clear aim of the Chinese authorities is to eradicate the Uyghur identity. China’s state media has stated that the goal is to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.” As the Washington Post put it, “It’s hard to read that as anything other than a declaration of genocidal intent.” High-level Chinese government documents speak of “absolutely no mercy”.

Parliamentarians, governments and jurists have a responsibility to investigate.

As faith leaders we are neither activists nor policy-makers. But we have a duty to call our communities to their responsibilities to look after their fellow human beings and act when
they are in danger.

In the Holocaust some Christians and Muslims rescued Jews. Some spoke out. To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil … Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”. After the Holocaust, the world said “Never Again.”

Today, we repeat those words “Never Again”, all over again. We stand with the Uyghurs. We also stand with Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians throughout China who face the worst crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution.

We urge people of faith and conscience everywhere to join us: in prayer, solidarity and action to end these mass atrocities. We make a simple call for justice, to investigate these crimes, hold those responsible to account and establish a path towards the restoration of human dignity.

Signatories:

The Rt Hon and Rt Rev Lord Williams of Oystermouth, former Archbishop of Canterbury

The Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro, Chair of UK FoRB Forum and former Chair of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO
Support for Persecuted Christians The Bishop of Coventry

The Rt Revd Alan Smith, Bishop of St Alban’s

The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark

The Rt Rev John Perry, former Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford

The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-ali, former Anglican Bishop of Rochester

The Reverend Jonathan Aitken

Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, and President of the Federation of
Asian Bishops Conferences

Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, Archbishop of Jakarta, Indonesia

Fr Timothy Radcliffe, former Master of the Dominican Order

Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ, Parish Priest, Farm Street Church of the Immaculate Conception and

Chair, Justice and Peace Commission, Diocese of Westminster

Fr Nicholas King, SJ, Assistant Catholic Chaplain, University of Oxford

Fr Uche Njoku, Parish Priest, St Joseph’s Church, New Malden

The Reverend Dr Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of
the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA

Al-Haj U Aye Lwin, Chief Convenor, Islamic Centre of Myanmar

Imam Dr Mamadou Bocoum, Muslim Chaplain and Lecturer in Islamic Studies

Imam Nabel Rafi, Director of the International Centre for Tolerance UK

Imam Daayiee Abdoul , Executive Director for Mecca institute, Washington DC

Desmond Biddulph CBE, President of the Buddhist Society

Sonam T Frasi, FCA, RAS, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for Northern Europe,
Poland and the Baltic States

Rabbi Baroness (Julia) Neuberger

Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Interim Director of Liberal Judaism

Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski, Senior Rabbi, Golders Green Synagogue

Rabbi Miriam Berger Finchley Reform Synagogue

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Chair of Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors

Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism

Rabbi David Mason, Muswell Hill United Synagogue and Executive Member of the Rabbinical
Council of United Synagogue

Rabbi Lea Mühlstein, Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi for Masorti Judaism

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK

Here is Cardinal Bo’s July 24 message on Hagia Sophia, followed by his July 1 message about Hong Kong:

***

STATEMENT BY HIS EMINENCE CHARLES CARDINAL BO on HAGIA SOPHIA

Freedom of religion or belief is a foundational human right for everyone, of every faith and none. The right to choose, practice, express and change one’s faith – or have no faith at all – is the most basic freedom for any soul. And it is a freedom I have consistently and passionately defended for Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Christians of all traditions, in my own country of Myanmar and throughout Asia.

Indeed, often I have spoken in defense of the persecuted Muslim peoples in Myanmar, and I will go on doing so without hesitation and unequivocally. For true freedom of religion requires respect for others’ freedom to practice, as well as the exercise and defense of one’s own liberty.

For that reason, the decision in Turkey to turn what was for 1000 years the world’s largest Cathedral – Hagia Sophia – into a mosque grieves me. And as President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, it is incumbent on me to say so.

It grieves me not because I want to deny my Muslim brothers and sisters places of worship. On the contrary, I defend their right to do so as much as I defend everyone’s. Nothing I say here should be taken by those who persecute Muslims – in Myanmar or beyond – as justification for their actions: it never can be. Persecution of any kind should be countered by people of faith, hope and love and by humanity. But nor can the decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque be seen as anything other than an unnecessary assault on freedom of religion or belief.

Faith is an affair of the soul, heart, mind and spirit. The temples of faith are within people, not buildings. Nevertheless, sacred buildings represent and embody history, heritage, art, iconography and the life-story of faiths throughout the millennia. When subverted, however, they can be used as symbols of power and subjugation.

In my country, Myanmar, mosques have been razed to the ground and I have spoken out – frequently and at some risk. In China, the Uyghur Muslims are facing what amounts to some of the contemporary world’s worst mass atrocities and I urge the international community to investigate. In India and Sri Lanka Muslims have faced appalling violence and I have condemned such inhumanity.

Similarly, In Indonesia, Ahmadiyya Muslim mosques have been destroyed by other Muslims, and churches have been forcibly closed. In Iran the Baha’is face an intense assault on their freedoms, and in Syria and Iraq sacred places have been wantonly destroyed while, sadly, closer to home, we have seen the same phenomenon in China with shrines destroyed, the Cross removed from places of worship, and even churches, like Xiangbaishu Church in Yixing, demolished.”

Turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque represents a similar undermining of freedom of religion or belief, love for each other, respect for the dignity of difference.

At a time when humanity is enduring intense strains due to the global pandemic, we need to come together, not drive communities apart. We need to put aside identity politics, abandon power plays, prevent ethnic and religious conflicts and value the dignity of difference among every human being. And we must cherish diversity and the unity we find within it.

How does turning what was once the world’s largest cathedral into a mosque do anything except sow tensions, divide people and inflict pain? How does placing Hagia Sophia into the hands of people who have no sense of its history and heritage and who will destroy its Christian identity help bring people together? How does seizing Hagia Sophia uphold Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It doesn’t. It merely reopens wounds and exacerbates divides at a time when we should be healing humanity.

I work with my brothers and sisters from every major faith tradition every day of my life. And I will go to the ends of the earth to defend their rights. I will defend every mosque, every synagogue, every temple possible. And I know my fellow religious leaders working for peace would do the same for me. That’s the spirit we need – to respect and defend each other’s freedoms to worship as we wish, to express our faith in accordance with our traditions, to convert freely according to our conscience, but never to be coerced, never to impose and never to seize or grab.

In previous epochs of history, we know that the seizure of one another’s sacred and holy buildings and sites has caused untold distress and bitterness and, in our generation, we should not be so foolish as to repeat the mistakes of history.

Reciprocity is a human and natural virtue.

Let Hagia Sophia be.

Charles Bo

President of Federation of Asia Bishops’ Conferences

Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar

—-

STATEMENT

“Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security

in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”

A Call for Prayer by Cardinal Bo — July 1, 2020

On behalf of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, I call on Christians of all traditions and people of all faiths, throughout Asia and the world, to pray for Hong Kong, and indeed for China and all her people, with great insistence.

The government of China has last night imposed a new national security law for Hong Kong. This was done without systematic consultation with the general public. This law seriously diminishes Hong Kong’s freedoms and destroys the city’s “high degree of autonomy” promised under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. This action brings a most significant change to Hong Kong’s constitution and is offensive to the spirit and letter of the 1997 handover agreement.

Hong Kong is one of the jewels of Asia, a “Pearl of the Orient”, a crossroads between East and West, a gateway to China, a regional hub for free trade and until now has enjoyed a healthy mixture of freedom and creativity.

A national security law is not in itself wrong. Every country has a right to legislate to safeguard protect national security. However, such legislation should be balanced with protection of human rights, human dignity and basic freedoms. The imposition of the law by China’s National People’s Congress seriously weakens Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and Hong Kong’s autonomy. It radically changes Hong Kong’s identity.

I am concerned that the law poses a threat to basic freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong. This legislation potentially undermines freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, media freedom and academic freedom. Arguably, freedom of religion or belief is put at risk.

According to many reports, freedom of religion or belief in Mainland China is suffering the most severe restrictions experienced since the Cultural Revolution. Even if freedom of worship in Hong Kong is not directly or immediately affected, the new security law and its broad criminalization of “subversion”, “secession” and “colluding with foreign political forces” could result, for example, in the monitoring of religious preaching, the criminalization of candlelit prayer vigils, and the harassment of places of worship that offer sanctuary or sustenance to protesters. It is my prayer that this law will not give the government license to interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations and the services they provide to the general public.

Clear assurance should be given for my brother bishops and fellow priests as they prepare their homilies, Protestant clergy as they ponder their sermons, and for religious leaders of other faiths too who must instruct their communities. The participation of religious bodies in social affairs should not be disturbed. Provisions in Hong Kong’s Basic Law guarantee freedom of belief. Will religious leaders now be criminalized for preaching about human dignity, human rights, justice, liberty, truth? We have learned from heavy experience that wherever freedom as a whole is undermined, freedom of religion or belief – sooner or later – is affected.

Over the past year there have been many protests in Hong Kong, most of them peaceful. However, while over 9,000 protesters have been arrested, while not a single police officer has been held accountable for their disproportionate brutality. We hold that all – protesters and police officers – are accountable according to the law. It is imperative that the underlying causes of unrest should be attended to, and that meaningful reforms and compromises are reached. This national security law threatens to exacerbate tensions, not to provide solutions.

For these reasons and in the spirit of the prophets, martyrs and saints of our faith, I urge people to pray for Hong Kong today. Pray for the leaders of China and Hong Kong, that they respect the promises made to Hong Kong, the promise to protect basic liberties and rights. May I urge all to pray for peace.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo,

President, Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.

1 July 2020

[Text of Messages were given by Cardinal Bo to ZENIT’s Deborah Lubov]

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https://zenit.org/articles/statement-on-covid19-china-by-myanmars-cardinal-bo-president-of-asia

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