Thousands gathered in the Belgian and European Union capital Brussels and other cities around the world on Tuesday to collectively protest the erosion of human rights under Beijing’s watch on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC), the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), the Belgian Uyghur Association, and the Tibetan Community in Belgium were joined by representatives from Hong Kong and other rights activists in Brussels, where they jointly marched to demand that Beijing honor the basic rights and freedoms of all citizens of China.
The group gathered near the European Parliament where they held a moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of Chinese repression over the past 70 years and expressed solidarity with those enduring persecution under Beijing’s rule, before being joined by European lawmakers and marching to a roundabout near several EU institutions, where a demonstration was held.
Protesters highlighted that while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has pointed to economic growth and poverty reduction as its legacy over the past seven decades, the rights and freedoms of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols, and the Chinese people themselves, have deteriorated.
WUC President Dolkun Isa, who delivered opening remarks at the demonstration, said that the Chinese people and the international community “cannot accept another 70 years of oppression and hopelessness,” and called for freedom and human rights—sentiments echoed by Belgium Uyghur Association President Yashar Yalkun.
The two Uyghur leaders in exile said that decades of Beijing’s rule in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) had culminated in repressive policies that include the detention of more than 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” in a vast network of internment camps in the region since April 2017.
Tibetan Community in Belgium President Phurbu Dhondup highlighted similar rights violations for Tibetans in China’s Tibetan region, where Chinese authorities regularly restrict their political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subject them to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.
“Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongols are all similarly suffering under Chinese rule,” he said, according to a tweet by ICT, adding that the ethnic groups “need to be united to press China to respect our rights.”
U.K. Members of the European Parliament Martin Horwood, Molly Scott Cato, and Phil Bennion also urged China to take “a more peaceful, respectful, [and] democratic path,” and expressed solidarity with the ethnic minorities enduring persecution in their homeland.
Along with the gathering in Brussels, protests against 70 years of Communist rule in China were held on Tuesday in Toronto, Oslo, Ankara, Adelaide, Almaty, and Bishkek, following similar demonstrations in Washington, Boston, Munich, Amsterdam, Sydney, and Melbourne over the weekend.
Calls for pressure
Ahead of gatherings over the weekend and on Tuesday, WUC’s Dolkun Isa warned in a joint statement from demonstration organizers that China’s repression of its ethnic minorities and rights activists has already led to “substantial negative impacts” on global security and the future of international institutions.
Vincent Metten, EU policy director at ICT, urged China to work with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, through his Middle Way Approach, which calls for true autonomy in the Tibetan region as part of China, and to respect the cultural traditions of all of its ethnic minorities.
“China must allow Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols and others to practice their religion freely and to respect cultural diversity, which does not represent a threat, but, on the contrary, it is a source of richness for China,” he said.
UNPO’s General Secretary Ralph Bunche said in the statement that a policy of “constructive engagement” with Beijing has “miserably failed to bring about a positive change to its human rights record,” and called on the U.S. and EU to take a stronger stance on China.
He praised the U.S. Senate its passage last month of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which would require regular reports on the XUAR’s internment camps, surveillance network and security threats posed by an ongoing crackdown on the Uyghur people, and expressed hope that the newly-introduced Tibetan Policy and Support Act would meet similar approval from lawmakers.
“We need to see those acts forcefully implemented and to see an acquiescent Europe following this example if the people, cultures and traditions of Hong Kong, Tibet, East Turkistan and Southern Mongolia are to have any chance of genuine survival,” Bunche said, using the preferred name of Uyghurs and Mongols for their homelands.
The organizers called for “a strong and principled response” from the EU and the international community to hold Beijing accountable for its actions, and urged incoming EU leaders to make human rights a “top priority” by raising them at the “highest political level” in their dealings with China.
On Monday, Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) issued a statement expressing solidarity with all peoples resisting the political, economic, social and cultural repression of the Chinese state, and drawing attention to Beijing’s denial of fundamental human rights ahead of the 70th anniversary.
UHRP director Omer Kanat said that while Chinese officials play up the idea of “unity,” their version of “unity” is built through violently silencing opposition, adding that “anyone with a choice, chooses to reject the repression of the Chinese Communist Party.”
“While the Chinese government chooses to look back and praise a largely rewritten history of 70 years, those who oppose its repression are looking toward a more inclusive and respectful path,” he said.