China Lashes Back at Pope Francis over Comments of Uighur Persecution

Pope Francis meets a group of faithful from China at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

ROME — The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has struck back at Pope Francis for his comments on the persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the pontiff’s remarks had “no factual basis at all.”

“People of all ethnic groups enjoy the full rights of survival, development, and freedom of religious belief,” Mr. Zhao said at a daily press briefing.

As Breitbart News reported, Pope Francis has acknowledged the CCP’s persecution of the Uighur Muslims for the first time in a new book titled Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future.

You can’t go to the periphery “in the abstract,” the pope declares in the book. “I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi.”

The pope’s mention of the “poor” Uighur Muslims among persecuted peoples represents a significant departure from his custom of never criticizing China.

As AsiaNews reports Tuesday, experts estimate that more than million Uighurs out of a population of nearly 10 million and other Islamic minorities have been detained in camps in Xinjiang, which the indigenous people call East Turkestan.

Credible reports relate that the incarcerated Uighurs have been victims of genetic testing, organ harvesting, torture, and forced abortions and human rights activists have described the detention centers as internment camps or concentration camps.

For its part, the CCP calls the camps educational establishments meant to combat terrorism, separatism, and Islamic extremism.

Pope Francis has carefully avoided criticizing Beijing, and has instead defended its record of religious freedom, insisting in a lengthy 2017 interview that in China “the churches are full” and that you “can practice your faith in China.”

I would love to visit China “as soon as they invite me,” Francis said, adding that he had said as much to Chinese authorities.

The pope has received considerable international criticism for his unwillingness to call out China for its numerous human rights abuses and especially its persecution of Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and Uighur Muslims, despite his practice of enumerating the sufferings of ethnic and religious groups around the world.

“As more and more nations have expressed their concern about the growing evidence of concentration camps and even genocide in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, there has been silence from the one entity that has the whole of suffering humanity at the core of its mission. I refer to the Holy See,” wrote Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times last summer.

The Vatican recently renewed a secret agreement with the CCP regarding the naming of Catholic bishops in China.

It is unclear at this point whether the pope’s remarks represent a change in course or simply a slip of the tongue that he will subsequently walk back.

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