Canadian ambassador Andrew Bennett says religious freedom 'violated' in China

The Canadian government intends to raise the issue of religious intolerance with the Chinese, says Canada's ambassador for the Office of Religious Freedom.

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The Canadian government intends to raise the issue of religious intolerance with the Chinese, says Canada's ambassador for the Office of Religious Freedom.

Andrew Bennett's comments come as Prime Minister Stephen Harper is poised to make another state visit to China some time in the fall.

In an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics,  Andrew Bennett spoke about growing reports the Chinese government is subjecting members of religious groups to repressive policies and discriminatory laws.

"In China, unlike other parts of the world, religious freedom is being violated almost solely as a result of government restrictions."​

"And that's certainly a concern and an issue that we seek to raise with the Chinese," Bennett told host Evan Solomon on Wednesday.

Under Canada's long-standing "one China" policy, the Canadian government takes no position with regard to specific autonomy claims. 

But with religious freedom now a central tenet of Canada's foreign policy, Bennett said it will take a stance when governments choose to discriminate on the basis of religion.

"In China right now, we're seeing increasing state persecution of a variety of religious communities and this has been escalating over the last year or more."

"For example, the case of China's officials prohibiting Uighur Muslims from fasting during Ramadan. You know, this is completely unacceptable," Bennett said.

"Now we're seeing reports that the Chinese government wants to nationalize Christianity."

Bennett echoed comments made by the U.S. last month when the Department of State released its annual report on international religious freedom.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said "In China, authorities harass Christians. They arrest Tibetan Buddhists simply for possessing the Dalai Lama’s photograph.

"And they prevent Uighur Muslims from providing religious education to their children or fasting during Ramadan."

Kerry said North Korea, Iran and Russia also stand out for their repression of religious freedom. Turkmenistan was added to the list of countries of particular concern

The report underscores "a major challenge" around the world, Kerry said.

Bennet said the case of a Canadian couple detained over allegations they stole China's state secrets is a consular matter.

"[Foreign Affairs] Minister Baird engaged with his Chinese counterparts on the case. He's engaged with Chinese officials here in Canada as well," Bennet said.

Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt are being held in an undisclosed location in Dandong, China, as they are investigated for stealing Chinese military and intelligence information, allegations their supporters say are ludicrous.


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