Foreign Affairs

Falun Gong ask PM to stand up to China

New Zealand has made its first public rebuke of China's human rights abuses, regarding Uighurs in Xinjiang. But other persecuted groups are appealing to the Prime Minister not to stop there. Laura Walters reports.

A Chinese refugee, who was detained and tortured for his beliefs, is calling on the Prime Minister to speak out against China’s persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, and other religious groups.

There has been a growing global awareness of the plight of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province China, including their detention in “re-education centres” and state surveillance.

Earlier this month – for the first time – New Zealand signed an open letter condemning the treatment of Uighurs in Xianjiang.

But other groups, including Falun Gong, are asking for the condemnation of the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of all religious groups.

Last month, London’s Independent Tribunal Into Forced Organ Harvesting of Prisoners of Conscience in China, known as the China Tribunal, which heard evidence from medical experts, human rights investigators and alleged victims over a six-month period, concluded China was a “criminal state”, and there was proof beyond reasonable doubt that it had committed crimes against humanity and organ harvesting.

The independent panel was chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who led the prosecution of Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Falun Gong practitioner Guohua Huang talked about how he and his late-wife were targeted and detained for their beliefs.

Huang was one of about 200 Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) practitioners who marked the 20th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of practitioners in Wellington this week.

“The CCP spared no effort in persecuting us. From July 1999, my wife and I were arrested and put in detention repeatedly. In labour camps and prisons, we were beaten, intimidated and tortured,” he said in the letter, which was read at the rally.

In 2002, Huang’s 30-year-old wife Zhixiang Luo died, while three months pregnant.

In the letter to Jacinda Ardern, Huang appealed to Ardern as a mother - sharing the story of his daughter Kaixin, who grew up without knowing her mother.

“I believe that you and your parliamentary colleagues have always upheld the international values of protecting human rights. I am also sure that you will show the New Zealand public that New Zealand can validate these values despite the fact that the CCP constantly uses their economic power to attempt to destroy these values.”

Falun Gong marking 20 years of Chinese state persecution, in Wellington. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Huang told Newsroom, via a translator, he wanted the Government to take specific action against China’s persectution of religious groups, including denying or restricting New Zealand visas for those officials or authorities who were involved in any intimidation, persecution or detention of Falun Gong practitioners in China or in New Zealand.

“I wish the New Zealand Government would publicly and directly condemn the Chinese Communist Party for their criminal behaviour persecuting all religiousl groups, including Falun Gong Practitioners, and Tibetan Buddhists and Xinjiang Muslims, and the Church of Christianity,” he said.

The push for the Government to speak out against the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and other religious groups in China comes as New Zealand puts its name to an open letter, signed by 22 UN member states condemning the treatment of Uighurs in China.

In the letter, the 22 countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Canada and other European countries, said they were concerned about the credible reports of large-scale, arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

It called on China to uphold its national laws and international commitments, including those it had signed onto as part of the UN.

“We do need to be a little bit more courageous and outspoken.”

Jillian Dempster, the country’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, was the signatory from New Zealand.

China denied the claims, and fought back with a letter from 37 countries, including North Korea and Russia, talking about China’s positive record on human rights.

The signing of the letter was a big step for the Government, which has so far refused to publicly call out China on human rights record.

New Zealand refused to sign a similar letter in November, with Ardern saying she had raised human rights as an issue at the highest level, with China’s Premier Li Kequiang, in closed-door bilateral meetings.

Ardern said New Zealand always raised human rights issues when it needed to, but she did not elaborate on the substance of the discussions, and continued not to make any public statements.

Calls for a different approach

The signing of this letter was being lauded by many in human rights circles as a step in the right direction for New Zealand.

But they say now is the time to extend that public statement to include other religious groups being targeted by the Chinese state.

Auckland-based human rights lawyer Kerry Gore said if this was an issue of principles, freedoms and religious beliefs, it could not be limited to Uighurs.

“We do need to be a little bit more courageous and outspoken.”

Now was the right time to make that public statement, thanks to the Prime Minister’s global profile.

"We invited nations to this that are like-minded, that support religious freedoms, or are aspirational to really engage more religious freedom in their nation. And unfortunately China has had a bad record, it is a country of particular concern."

China’s economic significance to New Zealand’s economy had presented a difficult balancing act, Gore said.

This had led to politicians being restrained and restricted when it came to denouncing human rights violations.

The widely held theory the trade relationship, and opening up of China’s markets, would lead to a liberalisation in terms of human rights and freedoms had not eventuated, he said.

“I think a different approach is called for.”

The United States has been increasingly vocal in its support of religious freedom, and has made a point of publicly talking about China’s record.

The targeting of Falun Gong practitioners and Uighurs was raised during the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom earlier this month. A recent report from the US included sections on the perception of different religious groups in China.

And US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told media the Chinese government was not invited to the event.

"We invited nations to this that are like-minded, that support religious freedoms, or are aspirational to really engage more religious freedom in their nation.

"And unfortunately China has had a bad record, it is a country of particular concern."

Huang and his daughter Kaixin delivered their open letter to the Beehive on Wednesday.

Falun Gong members will also mark the 20 years of persecution in a protest in Auckland on Saturday. They are supported by other inter-faith groups, including some of New Zealand's Christian community.

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