Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne marked International Religious Freedom Day by noting cases of religious persecution in countries like China, Iran, and North Korea, saying it’s important to recognize the right of people to freely practice their religion.
“Canada remains concerned by the rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia; the ongoing persecution of Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and other faith and belief communities in China; the continued economic exclusion of Bahá’ís in Iran; and the imprisonment of Christians in North Korea,” Champagne said in a statement.
“Canada will continue to call upon governments to allow U.N. special procedures immediate, unfettered, and meaningful access.”
According to the Pew Research Center, China has the highest level of government restrictions on religion. Iran and North Korea also consistently rank high in religious restrictions.
“China today [has a record of] the worst crackdown on human rights as a whole since the Tiananmen massacre, and the worst assault on religious freedom since the Cultural Revolution,” said Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, in a panel discussion on Oct. 27 organized by the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute.
A 2019 tribunal chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who previously led the prosecution of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes, concluded that China continues to kill Falun Gong adherents for their organs “on a significant scale.” The spiritual group has been persecuted in China since 1999, with many cases of death from torture, forced labour, and destroyed families.
China has also in recent years intensified its persecution of Uyghur Muslims. The parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights said on Oct. 21 that Beijing “has been employing various strategies to persecute Muslim groups living in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, forced labour, pervasive state surveillance, and population control.”
Christians continue to face persecution in China as well, Rogers said, with many cases of arrest and closure of places of worship.
“In recent years, we’ve seen the destruction of—including the dynamiting of—churches, the destruction of thousands of crosses, the closure of churches, and the arrest of pastors,” Rogers said.
A recent report by Freedom House says Chinese officials are conducting a multi-year campaign to consolidate control over major centres for Tibetan Buddhist learning. The report said Tibetans continue to be detained and sentenced to long prison terms.
In his statement, Champagne noted that in some cases instances of “persecution and discrimination” based on religion or belief have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a multicultural, multi-faith, and multi-ethnic society, Canada will continue to stand up for human rights, including the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, at home and around the world,” he said.