It shouldn’t surprise anyone that China’s leaders are “deeply fearful of any manifestation of religious belief,” since it is “perpetually insecure about its hold on power,” said David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China.
Limited by an ideology that can’t see anything beyond the communist vision, the Chinese government’s “deep anxiety” explains the party’s “inclination to suppress, punish and silence those who aspire to a deeper vision of possibilities,” said Mulroney, who was ambassador from 2009 to 2012. “So, too, are they intimidated by thinkers, painters and poets.”
Mulroney, now president and vice-chancellor of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, was a panelist at the Sixth Annual Parliamentary Forum on Religious Freedom in Ottawa April 3.
“Let’s be clear,” he said. “There’s no debate about the lack of religious freedom in China.” The Chinese government is tightly controlled by “an avowedly atheist party.” Humanity is viewed through “the prism of science, economics and a bloodstained and discredited ideology,” and the individual is reduced to “near invisibility,” said Mulroney.
Andrew Bennett, Canada’s former Ambassador of Religious Freedom, was also a panelist at the event, attended by about 100 people, including several members of Parliament.
He said China remains unmoved when it comes to improving its record on human rights. The Catholic Church “is now in a process of trying to reach some kind of consensus with the Chinese government on the role between the Catholic Patriotic Association and the Roman Catholic Church,” said Bennett.
As Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the Pope’s representative in Canada, listened in the audience, Bennett cautioned the church to “be careful about whom they are engaging with because there seems to be no desire on the part of the Chinese government to shift their approach, certainly not with Catholics.”
Keynote speaker Anastasia Lin, actress, human rights advocate and reigning Miss World Canada, spoke of interviews she had with people who were persecuted for their religious beliefs in China. The interviews were needed because the script for the movie, The Bleeding Edge, which dealt with organ harvesting, required her to understand her role in the film, she said. “The script was based on real incidents,” said Lin, 27. “I had to learn about torture, what it felt like to have bamboo stick punctured into your fingernails, and shocks to the body’s private parts or the head.”
Born in China, Lin, came to Canada with her mother as a young girl. When she began speaking out about human rights abuses in her homeland, she was denied a visa by the Chinese government. “My family came under great pressure in the region in an effort to keep me silent,” said Lin.
Her father used to be a very successful businessman in China, Lin said. “When the Chinese media publicly denounced me, and branded me as anti-China, a lot of people stayed away from him, and his business had been pretty much destroyed from that point on.”
Some governments try to deny people the right to their religious beliefs, said Lin. “They might succeed for a while, arresting human rights lawyers and believers, banning books and blocking websites, but they can never censor the human spirit, the creativity, the hope and the faith.”
The forum was hosted by Conservative MPs David Anderson and Garnett Genuis, and also featured a panel of speakers from several of China’s religious minority communities.
Anderson said that, as in the earlier forums, “There are a number of people reluctant to appear…for fear of reprisals in their countries.” Previous forums included discussion about Sharia law, Canadian history of religious freedom and the role of faith in the global public square.
The 6th Annual Parliamentary Forum on Religious Freedom was one of two religious events held the same evening at the John A. MacDonald federal building across from Parliament Hill. A documentary film called The Faithkeepers, depicting the violent persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, was followed by a panel of speakers, among them Majed El Shafie, a human rights advocate and founder of One Free World International. Conservative MP Tony Clement hosted that event.