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China (Human Rights)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Tony Cunningham.]

6.51 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I welcome this opportunity to debate human rights in China in the House. I fully understand that the Minister has a difficult card to play, but I hope that I and other hon. Members who might contribute will encourage him to tell the House clearly and firmly how the Government feel about human rights as they exist in China at the moment.

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly set forth the universal declaration of human rights to inculcate the level of human decency to which all people were entitled. Fifty-eight years later, however, its largest member state and the country with the third largest economy in the world is allowed to violate article after article with impunity. I want the Minister, as a representative of the Government, to respond to that. It is appalling that the largest member state of the United Nations is being allowed to get away with that.

China has an atrocious record on human rights abuses. Without the intervention of the international community and individual trading partners that economically empower the communist regime, such as the United Kingdom, there is little hope for the innocent citizens seeking justice, the journalists seeking to broadcast the intricate horrors perpetuated by the Chinese Government, the religious individuals seeking to express peacefully their devotion, the women seeking to free themselves from reproductive regulation and all within China who desire to be free of want, strife, fear of torture and arbitrary punishment.

Article 19 of the United Nations declaration of human rights states:

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is about to speak about the internet. Before he does so, may I ask whether he agrees that there is little doubt that the Chinese are vastly freer than they were during Mao's period of misrule, although conditions for intellectuals have become rather tougher, not least because of the internet? During the Russian repression, samizdat literature was an early sign that things were breaking up; nowadays the internet gives activists the necessary oxygen of publicity, which is being clamped down on in China. Nevertheless, Chinese society is surely freer than it was 20 years ago.

Mr. Amess: The hon. Gentleman has not seen my speech, but he has certainly read my mind, as I am about to deal with that point. I certainly agree that Chinese society is freer than when Chairman Mao ran the regime, but, like the hon. Gentleman, I am very concerned about the oppression of intellectuals and their freedom to express themselves in writing and conversation.

The Chinese Government's censorship of the print and broadcast media has resulted in the imprisonment of many brave journalists who have dared to breach
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their constraints. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 32 journalists are currently imprisoned in China, 15 of whom are internet journalists. China is the world leader in imprisoning journalists. That is something to be proud of—I don't think!

One such journalist is Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year sentence for sending an e-mail, via his Yahoo account, to the United States illuminating the tenets of a Government directive on how reporters were to cover the anniversary of the Tiananmen square massacre in order to quell any potential social unrest. Some of us remember only too clearly what happened in Tiananmen square, and the free world should never forget those disgraceful scenes.

Shi Tao was officially charged with

His arrest is of particular concern, as Yahoo provided the Government with the details of the e-mail and Tao's account information. That is only one example of a series of submissions by huge IT corporations that have bowed to the demands of Chinese officials and suppressed their consumers' rights to freedom of expression and exchange of information.

Last year Microsoft launched a portal that blocked such democratically inclined terms as "freedom". More recently, the company closed down Michael Anti's online blog after he articulated support for a strike against the politically motivated sacking of an officer of an editor at the "Beijing News". Google also contributed to the restriction of accessible information for Chinese citizens in the launching of a self-censoring search engine. According to a statement by the company, it has

Those examples of corporate adherence to the insidious policies of the Chinese Government that limit freedom of expression and information will only serve to further circumstances in which citizens are devoid of accurate information on world conditions and affairs that could help them to rise above their suppressive regime—and Britain remains silent.

Article 18 of the United Nations universal declaration of human rights states:

Despite the fact that the Chinese constitution asserts that all Chinese citizens enjoy the right to exercise their religion, the Chinese Government officially recognise only five religions. Religious affiliation and practice outside the sanctioned sects does persist, but at the risk of beatings, humiliation, welfare deductions, the withholding of medical treatment, torture, imprisonment, detainment at re-education labour camps, and even submission to—

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
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Mr. Amess: I was getting carried away there, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not realising that 7 o'clock had arrived.

As I was saying, such affiliation and practice does exist, but at the risk even of submission to mental institutions.

In a report on religious freedom, Christian Solidarity Worldwide lists the plethora of cases against Protestants and Catholics in China. Next Wednesday, I will lead a delegation to meet Pope Benedict XVI, and I hope to raise that issue with him.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate him on securing this important debate. Does he share my concern that those who persecute Christians in China have forgotten the good work that Christian missionaries did in bringing education to the Chinese over the past 200 years?

Mr. Amess: Absolutely. My hon. Friend is entirely right, and it is a shame that that point is entirely missed. I am delighted that he has taken this opportunity to remind the House and the Chinese Government of it.

David Taylor rose—

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I call Mr. David Drew.

Mr. Drew: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be very brief, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) obviously wants to get in. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on raising the issue of Christianity in China. He doubtless met the pastor whom I met when Christian Solidarity Worldwide brought him over from China 18 months ago. The most damaging evidence against the Chinese concerns their efforts to close house churches. Many Christians can pray only in their own homes, but even then the secret police spy on them and try to break up house churches. That is disgraceful. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one thing that the Government could do is to make it clear that such conduct is outwith any form of acceptable behaviour?

Mr. Amess: I agree entirely. I am sure that the Minister has listened very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, and I hope that he will respond to that point when he winds up. The pastor's visit was deeply moving and we were all shocked by what he had to tell us.

Page after page of the CSW report lists cases involving the beating, torture and arrest of church patrons, Bible students, pastors and other church leaders. It also describes the ongoing repression of the underground Catholic Church—another issue that I shall raise with the Pope—and a situation that has resulted in all 40 bishops being jailed, put under house arrest or strict surveillance, or going into hiding.
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Authorities in the Xinjiang region, which contains some 8 million Uighur Muslims, are, according to the UN Commission on Human Rights, responsible for

Religious leaders are required to pass loyalty tests. Government approval for religious activities is mandatory. Those aged under 18 are prevented from receiving religious instruction or entering mosques, and there are extremely strict controls over the publication of religious texts.

The Falun Gong has been classified by the Chinese Government as a heretical cult, and its leaders are continually subject to criminal sanctions. Its members are tried when they refuse to renounce their religion, even after spending time in re-education camps. Law firms have been forbidden from consulting, or offering legal advice to, its members, and its affiliates have been put into prison, labour camps and psychiatric institutions without trial.

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