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Bishop condemns human-rights abuses in China

18 November 2022

Dr Smith also questions UK stock market and accommodation for asylum-seekers


A former RC Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, arrives at West Kowloon Court, in September

A former RC Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, arrives at West Kowloon Court, in September

THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has condemned the “wide range of human-rights abuses” committed in China against Christians and other religious groups.

He was speaking in a debate that he initiated in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords on Thursday.

Dr Smith said that he had been almost reluctant to call the debate because of his long-held admiration for China and its people. “Yet I feel I cannot remain silent in the face of such a wide range of human-rights abuses,” he said.

There was “a vast cultural gulf” between the UK and China, he continued, which was laid bare in President Xi’s speech last month to the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, in which the President had said: “We will . . . continue to take the correct and distinctively Chinese approach to handling ethnic affairs. . . We will remain committed to the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation and provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt to socialist society.”

President XI had also said that the Chinese state had “effectively contained ethnic separatists, religious extremists, and violent terrorists”.

Dr Smith described these as “worrying words”. He went on to draw attention to the treatment of Christians in China: “The Chinese state has persecuted many Christian leaders, particularly those who exemplify the values underpinning the Christian faith, such as the affirmation of the dignity of human life, opposition to tyranny, and a willingness to stand up for the persecuted.”

Dr Smith spoke of the treatment of a former RC Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was arrested in May “for acting as a trustee to a humanitarian relief fund which helped some pro-democracy protesters”, and who is currently on trial (News, 20 May, 23 September).

“Many commentators have described it as a show trial, where he will almost certainly be convicted. What discussions have His Majesty’s Government had with China regarding the release of Cardinal Zen?”

Mistreatment was not limited to Christians, Dr Smith said, “but to anyone who is not prepared to align their faith with the aims and objectives of the Communist Party of China. This has meant the detention of imams, the demolition of mosques, and, in some cases, situations where people have been sent to psychiatric hospitals for challenging the Chinese government’s decision to demolish their religious buildings.”

Persecution of religious groups in China was “only the tip of the iceberg” of wider human-rights abuses, he said. “We all know that China continues to use the death penalty, in some cases for non-violent or political offences, and fails to produce any official statistics about numbers. According to some groups, China has executed around 8000 people a year since 2007, which, it is estimated, accounts for around 90 per cent of the global total of executions.”

Other speakers in the debate drew attention to the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China. Lord Rogan said that this had included “killings, mass detentions, torture, forced mass sterilisation, and cultural persecution”.

Lord Ahmad, the Human Rights Minister, responding for the Government, said that he welcomed Dr Smith’s “amplification and continued spotlight on this issue . . . it certainly strengthens my hand in discussions I have with colleagues across government.”

Lord Ahmad described the scale and severity of human-rights violations against Uighur Muslims in China as “harrowing”, and described it as “an extreme disappointment that we do not see the Islamic world — the Muslim countries themselves — standing up against the biggest internment of the Muslim community anywhere in the world.”

Lord Ahmad said that he acknowledged fully the points made by Dr Smith and other peers about the treatment of Christians and other religious groups in China. “I assure noble Lords of our continued commitment to the primary importance of human rights for all communities within China,” he concluded.

Also on Thursday, Dr Smith asked in the Lords what assessment the Government had made “of the impact of Paris overtaking London as Europe’s most valuable stock market”.

Baroness Penn, responding for the Government, disputed this, saying that, “according to the Global Financial Centres Index, London is the second highest-ranked financial centre in the world after New York, while Paris is tenth.”

Dr Smith responded, however, that “some . . . organisations claimed that Paris had overtaken London as the premier stock exchange. In the light of us trying to build an economy which properly rewards our workers and protects our environment, what are His Majesty’s Government doing to increase confidence in London’s reputation in financial trading and as the premier stock market?”

Baroness Penn replied that the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which had just completed its work in Commons Committee, would “make us more competitive”. She also said that the Government sought “to make London the premier place for green finance”.

On Tuesday, Dr Smith asked the Government a question in the Lords about the provision of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

“Just a few days ago, I had an email from one of my clergy who said that, during the week, large numbers of asylum-seekers were moved in, without any warning to the local authority or local partners, and it has caused chaos,” he said. “That means not only that we do not have the statutory support in place, but that voluntary groups such as churches, which are trying to offer support, simply have no warning.

“Will he go back to his officials? We simply need to get the communication right, and we will all work with the Government and other partners to try to solve this very difficult, agonising problem.”

Lord Murray, responding for the Government, said: “The issues surrounding the allocation of accommodation are certainly the subject of concentrated effort by Home Office officials, and it is the intention to improve notification. I add that we are incredibly grateful for the activities of church groups and others who help provide assistance to those accommodated in hotels.”

Christmas cards. The Telegraph reported this month that nearly half of the Christmas cards being sold by large high-street retailers and supermarkets had been printed in China. The newspaper reported: “Out of 279 multipacks sold in the branches of 10 high street shops and supermarkets in central London, 129 were made in China.” This amounted to 46 per cent of Christmas multi-pack cards on sale, it said.

The chief executive of Release International, Paul Robinson, was quoted as saying: “Christmas is about Christ and we should really think hard and long before buying Christmas cards manufactured in a country which persecutes Christians in appalling ways. Purchasing Christmas cards made in China directly funds this cruel anti-Christian regime.”

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