U.S. Congressman Chris Smith calls for religious freedom in historic speech in Shanghai

U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) yesterday returned to the United States from a five day human rights mission to China that was marked by an historic speech at the New York University (NYU) campus in Shanghai and several meetings with government officials and representatives from religious communities.

Smith, Chairman of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), pulled no punches during his speech— the first public speech by an elected Member of Congress since the campus opened there in 2012—which was open to NYU faculty and students with a standing room only crowd.

During his NYU-Shanghai remarks Tuesday entitled "A Duty to Defend Universally Recognized Rights” he boldly and frankly condemned a number of ongoing human rights abuses committed by China’s brutal dictatorship—denial of religious freedom and free speech, use of forced abortion, female gendercide and ongoing labor abuses— issues that have also been explored in Smith’s over 50 hearings on human rights abuses in China.

 “Over the past several years, I’ve heard the same thing—human rights conditions have gotten worse,” said Chairman Smith who has been to China four previous times but has been denied a visa from the Chinese government since his last trip in 2008 until this year. 

“The space for freedom and human rights advocacy is shrinking in China. It is my sad conclusion that a deteriorating human rights situation hurts U.S.-China relations and the Chinese people. At the moment of China's emergence as a global power, new laws and efforts to silence dissent are hurting China's international prestige and driving a wedge between the Chinese people and the international community,” stated Smith during his remarks.

On the plight of human rights activists and lawyers who have been beaten, unjustly imprisoned or simply disappeared Smith said,  “Even those making modest calls for reforms, in areas prioritized by the government—anti-corruption, public health, legal reform, and environmental concerns—have faced increased harassment, detention and arrest.”

“Human rights lawyers are ‘disappeared’ for simply trying to represent the poor and vulnerable. Labor rights advocates are targeted, academics and students muzzled, civil society and ethnic minorities increasingly are viewed as a security threat.”

“Religious freedom—the universally recognized human right to peacefully exercise faith in God—has not yet improved in China and I join with many around the world and in China in an appeal to President Xi to safeguard this internationally-recognized human right,” said Smith, while noting that his own Catholic faith motivates his work in Congress including promotion of universal human rights in the United States, China and elsewhere.

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