International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:07 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Labour, St Helens South and Whiston 2:07 pm, 25th October 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank Jim Shannon, not only for his excellent speech but for the tireless commitment he has shown to raising this issue in Parliament over the years.

The hon. Gentleman’s knowledge and passion were extremely helpful during our recent trip to Pakistan, where we discussed many of the issues that will be raised by hon. Members today. I was very grateful to the Pakistani people for the warm welcome we were given and for the engagement and energy that we saw in every face in every meeting every day. They have hope and faith, and they are looking to us for help. We travelled from cities to slums, from the heart of the Supreme Court to the outskirts of Islamabad, and we consistently found people who recognised the significant scale of the problems faced and who are ready and willing to tackle these challenges.

Today, just two days before International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day, is the perfect time for me to discuss some of the challenges facing Pakistan and another important nation—China. I begin with something that the hon. Gentleman mentioned: the recent BBC investigation into China’s organ transplant industry. Last week, I attended a meeting about the persecution of a group I had never heard of before: Falun Gong practitioners. To say I was shocked and appalled by what I heard would be a significant understatement. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that was outlawed by the Chinese Government in 1999. Since then, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reports that Falun Gong practitioners have been arbitrarily detained in their thousands, being regularly confined in labour camps or disappearing altogether. As if that were not bad enough, there are widespread, consistent and credible reports that China is forcibly removing organs from those prisoners to supply the vast, expanding and lucrative organ transplant industry.

Organ harvesting. I think we all need to take a moment to let the idea of that sink in. It is 2018 and we are talking about human beings—men, women and children—being treated like cattle, killed on demand for the benefit of others, and all because they practise the wrong faith. The Chinese Government of course deny that that is happening. They acknowledge that it used to happen, but say that it has stopped. I know that all hon. Members would very much like to believe that that is true, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

I refer the Minister to the 2016 report compiled by former Canadian Cabinet Minister David Kilgour, working alongside prominent international human rights lawyer David Matas and Ethan Gutmann, an award-winning investigative journalist. Their report is a meticulous examination of the transplant programmes of hundreds of hospitals in China. It draws on media reports, official statements, medical journals and hospital websites, and analyses information such as hospital revenue, bed counts, bed utilisation rates, surgical personnel, training programmes, state funding and more. Their research indicates that the Chinese regime is performing between 60,000 and 100,000 organ transplants a year—a vast discrepancy with the official estimates of roughly 10,000 a year. Where are the organs coming from?

The alarming discrepancy with the official statistics is not the only evidence—indeed, it is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, since 2000, Chinese transplant hospitals have quoted waiting times of between days and weeks for an organ transplant—sometimes even hours. To give hon. Members some context, the average waiting time for a kidney transplant in the UK or US is two to three years, and these countries have much longer established traditions of voluntary organ donation.

That evidence, combined with testimony from Chinese medical professionals, has led to reports by major news outlets across the world, including the BBC, CNN and The New York Times. Indeed, the evidence is so persuasive that it has led numerous countries across the world to condemn the practice and to introduce legislation to prevent organ transplant tourism to China. For example, in 2016 the United States House of Representatives passed resolution 343 on forced organ harvesting in China. That resolution

“condemns the practice of state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting in the People’s Republic of China” and

“demands an immediate end to the…persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice”.

Earlier this month, it was announced that a people’s independent tribunal on forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience would begin in London during December 2018. The tribunal will be chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice, who led the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic, former President of Serbia, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. I hope that hon. Members, including the Minister, will follow closely the work of the tribunal on forced organ harvesting.

The accusations are grave and difficult to believe, but does not their very gravity mean that we should do all we can to assess their validity? Should we not make absolutely sure that the claims are not true? Can we really say that we care about protecting freedom of religion or belief if we do not fully investigate such horrible reports? This Government have made very important strides against horrible practices such as modern-day slavery. Will the Minister agree to tackle this equally revolting practice? It is especially important now, as the Chinese Government seem to be expanding their persecution to Uighur Muslims. The UN has reported that 1 million Uighurs—innocent Chinese citizens; peaceful practitioners of Islam—have been detained in “re-education” camps in Xinjiang. Although I am a great believer in the importance of studying, I do not think that even I would want that kind of education. Also, The Guardian reports that millions of Uighur Muslims have been arbitrarily detained for unwanted blood, tissue and DNA tests. Why? What could possibly be the motive for that? Given the evidence mentioned earlier, one could be forgiven for concluding that it is preparatory work for including Uighurs in the forced organ transplant system. Can we really stand by and not look into this?

I shall finish my discussion of freedom of religion or belief in relation to China by quoting a passage from a report produced in 2016 by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission:

“This is an issue that emerged in 2006 and was initially met with official scepticism. Yet…the evidence has continued to accumulate, and the issue shows no sign of fading away. The United Kingdom should address it head on. Working with others within the international community, Britain could help commission an independent investigation to examine the size of China’s organ transplant industry…the United Kingdom could enact legislation making it a criminal offence to travel to China for organs. The UK Government should raise detailed questions about organ transplant processes and facilities with the Chinese Government, specifically around how waiting times for compatible organs are so short and where organs are sourced from.”

I hope that the Minister will take those recommendations to heart.

On my recent trip to Pakistan, I was shocked to learn about the ongoing persecution of another group that I was unfamiliar with until recently—the Ahmadis. The Pakistani penal code, which the Member for Strangford mentioned, is used to prevent Ahmadi Muslims from identifying as Muslims or even using Islamic greetings, although they are Islamic people. Ahmadis are routinely arrested arbitrarily on false charges of blasphemy and have been subjected to vicious attacks in public, including acid being thrown at them. Hundreds of Ahmadis have been murdered on grounds of faith. Ahmadis are also technically prohibited from voting, because to vote they are required by the state to register as non-Muslim, which many refuse to do.