China’s crackdown on religion highlighted at parliamentary event

Persecution of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Christians, and Falun Gong practitioners raised at event, co-organised by Tibet Watch and China Watch

This week saw a well-attended event in parliament, co-organised by Free Tibet’s research partner Tibet Watch and the organisation China Watch.

Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, hosted the event, which took place on the evening of Wednesday 15 May.

The event was packed with at least 40 invited guests in the room and the rest of audience spilling out into the corridor.

In her opening remarks, Bruce spoke about the increased repression of religious freedom of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hongkongers and Falun Gong practitioners. She highlighted the reports of a million Tibetan children separated from their parents and placed in residential schools to forcibly assimilate them, Uyghurs placed into political re-education camps, China’s nationwide crackdown on house churches and its continued persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. Bruce also briefly mentioned the Chinese government’s harassment of residents abroad through transnational repression.

On the topic of Tibet, Bruce noted that the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, an international coalition of parliamentarians from 43 countries, adopted Tibet’s missing 11th Panchen Lama as the Prisoner of Conscience for February 2024.

Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the UK, Sonam Frasi, represented Tibet on the panel and picked up the thread on the Panchen Lama: “Tibetans believe that the fate of the Panchen Lama and Dalai Lama are inextricably linked. We speak poetically of the two as the Sun and Moon. Panchen Lamas have played a role in recognising and educating the Dalai Lama and vice-versa. We are sad that the true Panchen Lama remains separated from us at a time when His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is in his late eighties, remains in exile.” 

Sonam Frasi also referred to Gyaltsen Norbu, who Beijing has attempted to promote as the real Panchen Lama, against the wishes of Tibetans. He concluded by urging those gathered to help advocate for the quick release of Tibet’s missing Panchen Lama.

Rahima Mahmut, UK Director of World Uyghur Congress, spoke next, talking about her personal story to highlight how Uyghurs continue to be persecuted. Having lost any touch with her family back home since January 2017, she mentioned how she learned lately about the passing away of her eldest sister in March last year and the release of her eldest brother from the internment camps due to poor health as a result of torture while in detention. “The whole region, like Tibet, is an open prison”, she stated. “We cannot do anything without being surveilled. Religious freedom is non-existent. It is just impossible.” 

Jenna Zhang read out a statement expressing her mother’s experience in China as a persecuted Falun Gong practitioner, including her detention for 15 days, during which time she was beaten by police. Jenna Zhang appealed to the UK government and the international community to speak up for justice and Falun Gong.

The final panellist was Benedict Rogers, Co-Founder of Hong Kong Watch and friend of Tibet, who spoke about the persecution of Christians in mainland China and Hong Kong. Noting that “the CCP has always been inherently hostile to religion”, he recalled how in the last 10-12 years under Xi Jinping, China’s limited religious freedoms have shrunk drastically, with the central government taking on the religious affairs policy directly under its control. He touched upon CCP practices such as the imposition of Xi Jinping’s portraits and CCP propaganda banners inside churches and extensive surveillance inside churches. He nevertheless ended on a note of hope, repeating Ambassador Sam ​B​rownback’s​ words that “China is at war with faith. It is a war they will not win”.

After a brief Q&A moderated by former MP David Burrowes, there was time for closing remarks from the panellists and a big round of applause for all the speakers. The conversations continued outside the venue, with Free Tibet staff distributing the organisation’s latest magazine and the flyers about Tibet’s missing Panchen Lama to the departing audience members.

We are Free Tibet, and we stand with Tibetans around the world. For their homeland, for their future and against China’s brutal occupation.