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July 17, 2018

Wilberforce A!ert: Solidarity for prisoners of conscience

In 2010, Liu Xiaobo was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for his tireless work on behalf of prisoners of conscience in China. As a prisoner himself, however, Xiaobo was prevented from retrieving his prize. Last July, he was moved from prison to a hospital in Shenyang under heavy security, where he died of cancer. This July, members of Congress, human rights activists, and representatives of persecuted groups in China honored Xiaobo’s life and legacy with a rally on Capitol Hill.

With Xiaobo’s story as backdrop, rally participants called for renewed attention to the tens of thousands of individuals who remain unjustly imprisoned in China. Speakers encouraged the crowd to stand in solidarity for human rights and urged passage of H.Res. 750, a bipartisan resolution introduced by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) that would establish a Prisoners of Conscience Day. In addition to McGovern and Hultgren, other rally speakers included Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and former Congressman Frank Wolf.

The July 12th rally laid bare China’s egregious human rights record and the staggering number of individuals detained there due to peaceful expression of political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs. Many prisoners are people of faith. Among them are upwards of one million Uyghur Muslims reportedly detained in political re-education camps in Western China, where accounts of brainwashing, torture, death, and other abuses are numerous. In Tibet, Buddhists are routinely imprisoned and tortured, and China’s Communist government actively persecutes and often closes Christian churches.

Sponsors of the rally — which included 21Wilberforce, Amnesty International, the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, Freedom House, and China Aid — hope to put pressure on the Chinese government but also encourage those imprisoned, that they might know the world has not forgotten them.

While he lived, Liu Xiaobo remained steadfast in his beliefs, even in prison and despite the grimness of his situation. “Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, the mother of truth,” he wrote in a Nobel lecture, read in absentia at his awards ceremony.  “To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.”

Days after Xiaobo was supposed to have received his prize, his wife Liu Xia also was arrested. For eight years, she has remained under house arrest, but communities around the world have been tireless in their advocacy on her behalf. Last week, on the eve of the rally celebrating Xiaobo’s life, the world awoke to the news that Liu Xia was aboard a plane destined for Berlin — exiled from her homeland but finally free.

Even as we celebrate Liu Xia’s release, we must be mindful of the hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — of people who remain behind bars around the world in places where freedom of religion, conscience, and deeply held beliefs are deemed dangerous. As Congresswoman Pelosi reminded rally participants, “America has a moral duty to speak out against China’s brazen disregard for basic freedoms.”

Caleb Kostreva, Summer Associate

Take Action

  1. Contact your Congressional representatives to urge support of H.Res.750 and the designation of Prisoners of Conscience Day
  2. Pray for Liu Xia’s recovery after eight years in detainment, and for strength, perseverance, and hope for others who remain imprisoned
  3. Watch the #ChangeNotChains rally
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Keywords: China, Religious Freedom, Prisoners of Conscience, 21Wilberforce

Caleb Kostreva

Caleb Kostreva is a Senior in the Guy D. Newman Honors Academy at Howard Payne University, and is dual-majoring in Public Policy and Civic Leadership, and Global Studies. He is interested in Chinese language and culture, and volunteered at a children’s home in Shanghai, China during a semester abroad. He is interested in international human rights policy development and humanitarian aid, and hopes to dedicate his life to helping serve the needs of others. He is serving as a 21Wilberforce Associate this summer.

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