07/06/2009, 00.00
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Uygurs, Tibetans, Catholics, Protestants; the Chinese powder keg

by Bernardo Cervellera
The repression of the Ughurs is not an isolated case. Protestant are in jail and bishops have disappeared. The oppression of human rights is endemic in China and created the basis for revolts and clashes that can provoke unease and war everywhere. Benedict XVI and John Paul II: Human rights are the foundation of peace.

Rome (AsiaNews) - In today's meeting with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, the Italian president Giorgio Napolitano mentioned the issue of human rights. Both of the two heads of state agreed that "economic development in China has created new opportunities and poses new demands in the field of human rights."

Napolitano’s words echo those of Charter 08, a document drafted and signed by intellectuals, academics, activists and members of the Chinese Communist Party who seek - in a non-violent way - democratic reforms throughout country to stop the violence and injustice caused by the success of China’s economic development and its complete lack of respect for human dignity.

"The crazed results - states Charter 08 - are endemic corruption of political leaders, an undermining the rule of law, lack of protection of the rights of the population, a loss of ethics, vulgar capitalism, the polarization of society between rich and poor, the exploitation and abuse of the natural, human and cultural environment, the aggravation of a long list of social conflict, most notably a hardening of animosity between official representatives and ordinary people".

Charter 08 also says that "conflicts and crises are growing in intensity" day by day. As if to confirm this, last night in Urumqi bloody clashes broke out between local people and police. Although China continues to accuse groups of Uygurs in exile, everyone knows that the problem is internal and has been simmering for decades.

With the excuse of "fighting Islamic terrorism" Beijing is colonizing and oppressing the population and its religiosity in the region with emergency legislation. Every Friday Uygur imams must submit to the government the text of their sermons, religious education of young people up to 18 years is prohibited, Islamic schools and mosques have been destroyed (in favour of "economic development"); boys in schools are forced by teachers to eat during Ramadan.

The social and political marginalization that the Uygurs are submitted to in their own land is only equal to the accusations and marginalization suffered by Tibetans in Qinghai, or in "autonomous" Tibet.

Indeed, one can say that the pattern of recent days closely follows the facts and theories of the Tibetan revolt before the Olympics in March 2008. Then too, a peaceful demonstration turned into a violent confrontation with the army resulting in dozens of deaths, followed by thousands of arrests and martial law.

Violence toward the Uygur and Tibetan minorities is no different from that suffered by other groups. Human rights activists, lawyers who defend the poor against the thieving of Party members; peasants demonstrating against the expropriation of their land and homes meet with the exact same response from the government: suffocation and repression.

Even religious communities, who - like the Uygurs and Tibetans – have no territorial claims, suffer the same violence against their dignity and freedom. For the past 2 years there has been a campaign to eliminate the entire underground Protestant community and their so-called domestic churches in act; the destruction of churches, the arrest of pastors, the faithful, beaten, the dissemination of the Bible prohibited.  

The Catholic community is no better off. Official bishops - about 70, approved by Beijing - are now under stringent control because secretly reconciled with the pope. All underground bishops (approximately 40) - not recognized by Beijing – are under house arrest. It is worth remembering that some of them have been missing for some time: Mgr. James Su Zhimin (diocese of Baoding, Hebei), 75, arrested and disappeared since 1996, Msgr. Cosma Shi Enxiang (diocese of Yixian, Hebei), 86 years, arrested and disappeared on April 13th 2001, Msgr. Julius Jia Zhiguo, who disappeared for the umpteenth time March 30th last.

If we add the unemployed and migrants, those disgruntled by the current economic crisis to the Uygurs, Tibetans, democracy activists, Protestants and Catholics, it becomes all too clear that China is sitting on a powder keg that can explode at any moment and in fact is already giving rise to continuous revolts and clashes with the army and police.

China’s implosion into disorder would have global repercussions.  Never before has the nexus between human rights and peace as stated by both Benedict XVI (Message to UNESCO in 2005) and John Paul II (see Message for World Day of Peace 1999) been more evident.

By not respecting human rights, China edges the world closer to war.

The Quirinale communiqué hastened to state that any steps taken by Italy against Beijing regarding human rights will be made in "the utmost respect for the autonomy of Chinese Institutions and their motivations”. Maybe, it is far too little.

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