Photo by Jean-Christophe Verhaegen (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Pope Francis has said in his new book ‘Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future’, which is due to be released in December, has said that he thinks the Uighurs (a Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang region) are “persecuted”. This is the first time the Pope has openly expressed his thoughts on this subject matter which is something human rights activists have been asking him to do for years. He mentions it in a statement where he says: “I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi”. The Rohingya people have been persecuted in, and have fled Myanmar and the Yazidi have been targeted by the Islamic State in Iraq. He also goes on to talk about the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries as well. However, this is the first time that he has mentioned the Uighurs probably because the Vatican had been in talks with China on renewing a controversial accord with Beijing on the appointment of Bishops; this was then renewed in September.
The Uighurs are a Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang region which is in the far west of the country, and is one of the countries largest regions in terms of land area; it also has the most border’s with neighbouring countries these being Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mongolia and Russia. More than 1 million Uighurs are being held in camps there with 400 internment camps existing, dozens have been constructed over the last two years despite claims from Chinese authorities that the “re-education system” is winding down (according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute). In these camps it is said by human rights authorities, as well as the US and other governments, that these prison-like facilities are intended to divide Muslims from their religious and cultural heritage, forcing them to declare loyalty to China’s ruling Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping. However, the Chinese authorities claim that they are “vocational education and training centres as part of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures.” After this comment was made there was a response from the Chinese ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian who said that the Pope’s remarks had “no factual basis at all” and that “People of all ethnic groups enjoy the full rights of survival, development, and freedom of religious belief,” however nowhere in that daily briefing did he mention the camps.
These remarks come after a string of progressive remarks that Pope Francis has publicly made in the last few months no less the one earlier in autumn when he publicly endorsed same-sex unions. In this book, Pope Francis also talks about the coronavirus crisis and George Floyd where he mentions that people who see masks as an encroachment on their liberty by the state were “victims only in their imagination” and also praised the people who protested against the death of George Floyd for uniting around the “healthy indignation” that brought them together. All these remarks are very welcoming to see from someone that wields so much international influence, respect and support (no less shown by his 7.4 million followers on Instagram and 18.8 million on Twitter).