UPDATED at 9:26 A.M. ET on 2020-02-08
U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Thursday offered prayers for Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims killed or jailed for exercising their faith in China, calling them among the world’s most persecuted victims of state repression of religion.
Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., with President Donald Trump sitting nearby, Pelosi drew special attention to the case of Tibet’s Panchen Lama, who disappeared in Chinese custody in 1995 at the age of six so that Beijing could install a candidate of its own. China’s meddling in the succession of Buddhist leaders is a major bone of contention for Tibetans.
“Let us pray for the Panchen Lama and all the Tibetan Buddhists in prison in China or missing for their faith,” Pelosi said, adding, “Let us [also] pray for . . . the one to three million Uyghurs in China forced from their homes and incarcerated in camps.”
Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwestern China are believed to have detained up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets have shown that those in the camps are detained against their will with no judicial process and are subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Speaking to RFA following the National Prayer Breakfast, Jewher Ilham—daughter of jailed Uyghur academic and rights advocate Ilham Tohti—praised this year’s event for pointing to “the importance of religious freedom among religious groups.”
“[Pelosi’s] prayer mentioning the sacrifices of the Uyghurs was so important in highlighting our cause,” added Campaign for Uyghurs (CFU) executive director Rushan Abbas, who also attended the event.
“Our work and organization have now been recognized at a prestigious and important event in the presence of dignitaries from 140 countries, and this gives us the confidence and strength to work even harder in our activism and advocacy for our defenseless people,” she said.
Bill signals growing US support for Tibet
A bill to strengthen U.S. policy in support of Tibet, The Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA), meanwhile passed last week in the House of Representatives, a move a Tibetan exile representative called an "encouraging and empowering" measure for the formerly independent Himalayan nation ruled by China for seven decades.
The Act, which passed on Jan. 28 by a vote of 392 to 22, now requires a vote in the Senate, which is also reviewing a companion bill.
Co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. James McGovern and Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the TPSA when signed into law will require China to allow the opening of a U.S. consulate in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa before any new Chinese consulate can open in the United States.
It will also establish a U.S. policy that the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including future successors to exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, is a decision to be made by Tibetans free from Chinese government interference.
Reported and translated by Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur Service, and by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.