By Faith J. H. McDonnell (@Cuchulain09)
Very often church members and other concerned citizens ask me what they can to help the persecuted church around the world. They also express their frustration at being overwhelmed by the scope of the problem – all of the countries and all of the people who are affected. They wonder if anything they do can make a difference. You may have wondered this yourself, so I want to share with you one example of a campaign in which you can make a difference right now.
This month, June 2013, the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, a coalition of 30 human rights and religious freedom organizations, including The Institute on Religion and Democracy, launched the “Free China 16” campaign. The China 16 represent thousands and thousands of citizens, oppressed, persecuted, and/or imprisoned by the Chinese Communist government.
These brave men and women, prisoners of conscience and faith, include Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, Uyghurs, human rights attorneys, democracy activists, and Christians. Another of the China 16 is the nephew of Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights activist and defense lawyer who escaped from house arrest in 2012. In fact, Mr. Chen and Christian human rights group China Aid played an important role in bringing our coalition together on their behalf, to urge the United States government and other world leaders to pressure President Xi Jinping for their release.
Our international coalition for Free China 16 released a letter and a list of the China 16 to President Barack Obama on June 5, just prior to President Obama’s meeting with President Xi. In the letter we informed Obama that the list included individuals “who have been imprisoned for as long as ten years.” Many of these “now suffer from serious health problems,” we told him, and they are “denied access to adequate treatment or even visitation from family members.”
We explained that our “initiative on behalf of the China 16 is intended to match brave and suffering faces to the abuses now taking place in China against lawyers, academics, writers, businessmen, and religious and political leaders, who carry with them the hope for a more peaceful 21st century for all.” We said that each of the China 16 “merits a strong voice,” not just from civil society and the media, but from the United States government.
Our letter reminded Obama of the human rights advocacy and intervention that occurred during the Cold War, because the U.S. “has long and successfully made a robust commitment to the human rights of prisoners of conscience a critical component of our foreign policy.” We added that this priority “enhanced rather than detracted from the satisfactory resolution of the full range of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations.”
Now, here’s what you can do to help:
- Read the biographies of the China 16. If you can’t open the link to the Google document, we will have the document available on the IRD website next week, in the Become Aware and Take Action section.
- Pray for the China 16, encourage your family, friends, and fellow church members to pray for them.
- Four members of Congress, U.S. Representatives Frank Wolf and James McGovern, the co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and U.S. Representatives Chris Smith and Karen Bass, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations also sent a bi-partisan letter about the China 16 to President Obama. You can alert your own members of Congress to this great action and ask that they also raise their voices on behalf of the China 16.
- Watch Juicy Ecumenism and the IRD website for more ideas in the coming days.