The coronavirus pandemic has devastated communities across the world and it has also been used as a reason for oppressing religious minorities in several countries, including China. “The coronavirus crisis should not be used to pressurise religious minorities” stated Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Peter van Dalen and Carlo Fidanza in a parliamentary question sent to European Commission.
On 29 June 2020, MEPs Peter van Dalen of the European People’s Party (EPP) and Carlo Fidanza of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) asked the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, if he was “aware of the closure of 48 churches in China?” The MEPs also asked if the High Representative was “working on getting these churches opened again and on preventing the closure of more churches?”
The MEPs also enquired about the High Representative/Vice President’s intention “to prevent the increase in violations of freedom of religion or belief in certain areas in the world, during the coronavirus crisis, especially in China?”
In closing, the MEPs emphasized that the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance is keen to hear Mr Borrell’s answers and, even more so, to see his actions in this regard. They also added that “together we can be strong in the world in standing up for human rights and freedom of religion or belief”.
On 19 August 2020, Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, formally responded stating that “the EU follows very closely the situation regarding restriction on freedom of religion or belief in China and has expressed its concerns on a number of occasions, including in multilateral fora”. He highlighted that “at the last United Nations General Assembly Third Committee in October 2019, the EU delivered a statement referring to restrictions on freedom of religion or belief in China, including ‘against Christians across China’” and that “in January 2020, the High Representative/Vice-President’s spokesperson called for the immediate release of pastor Wang Yi after he was tried in secret and sentenced to 9 years imprisonment for his peaceful advocacy for freedom of religion”.
Mr Borrell informed the MEPs that he “is aware of the restrictions on Christians’ freedom of religion, including the closure of churches in the past months and other restrictions imposed during the coronavirus crisis”. He went onto say that “human rights issues and the management of the COVID-19 outbreak were discussed with Chinese interlocutors both during the Strategic Dialogue between High Representative/Vice-President Borrell and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (9 June 2020) and during the last EU-China Summit (22 June 2020)”. He added reassurance confirming that “the situation of Christians will continue to be discussed as part of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, which is expected to take place in China as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are eased”.
In closing, Mr Borrell highlighted that in “the global context of the fight against the pandemic, the EU has called on countries around the world to ensure that limitations on human rights, including freedom of religion or belief (such as temporary closing of places of worship) can only be taken if they are legitimate, proportionate, limited in time and non-discriminatory. Such restrictions must never lead to, or be used to justify violent acts”.
China’s human rights and religious freedom violations continue to increase and have worsened under the Covid-19 pandemic. The Chinese Communist Party(CCP) seeks to control the churches, including the words spoken from the pulpit, it continues to persecute Falun Gong practitioners and oppresses millions of Muslim Uyghur in prison camps in East Turkestan. Europe must reject any policy of appeasement that enables the CCP regime to arrest, imprison, torture, and kill followers of any faith or belief in China.
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