WASHINGTON – Human rights activists kicked off a rally this week aimed at bringing awareness to human rights violations in China and advocating for unjustly detained prisoners of conscience.
The "Change Not Chains" rally took place July 12 on the East Lawn of the US Capitol.
"There are tens of thousands of individuals unjustly imprisoned in China due to their peaceful expression of political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs. Ranging from house arrest to imprisonment and detention camps, these individuals deserve to be remembered," organizers stated in a press release for the event.
Speakers at the event included Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), former Rep. Frank Wolf, USCIRF Chairman Tenzin Dorjee, Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer, as well as other prominent human rights leaders and representatives of those persecuted in China. Sen. Marco Rubio submitted a prepared statement.
Also present was Pastor Wong Dao, who works for the international Christian human rights nonprofit China Aid, which seeks to promote religious freedom in China.
"The 2017 annual report of China Aid indicates that more than 200,000 Christians were harassed and persecuted," noted Pastor Dao
Pastor Dao has experienced firsthand persecution by the Chinese government. He has been detained over 10 times, his house church was forced to move multiple times to avoid suppression, and his church was subjected to arbitrary searches and illegal repossession of property.
"Conscience is imprinted by the Creator on human beings created according to His image," he said. "Conscience serves as our best friend and our life guidance so that we can soar with the wind. May God bless all prisoners of conscience in China and may our conscience continue to guide us."
Sen. Cruz spoke out vehemently against the human rights violations of the Chinese government and persecution of those practicing their faith.
"We stand here today in support of freedom," he said. "We stand here today in support of life. We stand here today in support of the fundamental human right that every man, woman and child deserves – a right to recognize that each life is a precious gift from God, that government should not be in the business of murdering its citizens, that government should not be in the business of torturing its citizens."
"For far too long the People's Republic of China has committed human rights abuse, after human rights abuse, after human rights abuse, murder, torture, a state policy of forced abortions – that is a crime against women and a crime against humanity," the Texas lawmaker charged.
"Yet, we stand here today also reflecting on the power of truth, on the power of light and sunshine," he continued. "Communist dictatorships fear the truth. Communist dictatorships fear light and scrutiny because their evil flourishes in darkness."
Sen. Cruz has introduced legislation to rename the street in front of the Chinese embassy in memory of the deceased Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo. The legislation passed unanimously in the Senate.
Meanwhile, CBN News asked former Congressman Wolf – now a distinguished senior fellow at the Christian human rights organization 21Wilberforce, which sponsored Thursday's event – what message he would like to send to the persecuted Christians around the world.
"To the Christians who are being persecuted, the message is that America cares. I guess the question is the church in America ought to wake up because the church in America has been relatively silent. Most of these Christians are almost forgotten about by the West. There is more persecution taking place today than almost any other time in modern times," said Wolf.
Wolf told CBN News that if churches in the West were to write to prisoners in China and the wardens saw these letters, the treatment of those prisoners would drastically improve.
"Imagine if every church, every synagogue and every mosque in the United States adopted a prisoner of conscience," he said. "They could open up the jails and free them."
On July 10, Liu Xia, the wife of deceased dissident Liu Xiaobo, was released by China after being under house arrest for eight years. The rally celebrated this release, but it was clear that there is still much more work to be done to free all the prisoners of conscience in China and worldwide.
" [Notes:This] should encourage us to redouble our efforts because what released Liu Xia was not an aircraft carrier pulling up along the Chinese coast. It was not tanks rolling across the border. It was not billions of dollars. It was simply light and truth," said Cruz.
"That light and truth is powerful," he continued. "It is what each and every one of us is engaged in doing, shining the light and speaking the voice of human freedom. Tyranny hates inconvenient truths."