Global leaders attend Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum

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Hsinchu (Taiwan News) – President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said Taiwan’s religious freedoms have come a long way, at the Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum, in Hsinchu on Thursday (May 30).

“Taiwan walked a dark path on the road to religious freedom,” said Tsai. Citing the Kuomintang’s (KMT, 國民黨) ban on local languages and harassment of religious leaders, she attributed Taiwan’s vibrant religious freedom to civil society’s long and unwavering efforts in fighting the former authoritarian regime’s religious restrictions.

“The freedom we enjoy today is built on the blood, sweat, and tears of our predecessors,” Tsai said. “So, we in Taiwan know better than anyone else how precious freedom is.”

Tsai drew a sharp contrast between Taiwan’s religious freedoms and China’s crackdown on Christian churches, in addition to its treatment of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities, which it sends to re-education camps. Tsai said her government will continue to work with civil society organizations, facilitate more international cooperation, and create a truly inclusive and peaceful world.

The American Institute in Taiwan Director, William Brent Christensen, also addressed the forum. Christensen said religious freedom is a fundamental concept that requires both civil society and the government’s joint efforts to maintain.

“The work of civil society is essential to protecting religious freedom around the world,” said Christensen. Praising Taiwan’s vibrant society and religious groups, he highlighted their roles in maintaining Taiwan’s democracy, alleviating poverty, providing humanitarian aid when disasters strike, protecting the environment, and giving voice to disenfranchised groups.

The Dalai Lama, who was also invited to the event, could not attend but wrote a letter expressing his regrets. "Religious freedom is a basic human right," he wrote. "I am happy to observe that in a robust democracy like Taiwan, the law protects and defends human rights."

The Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum started on Thursday at the Presbyterian Bible College in Hsinchu. Also present at the event was Stephen J. Yates, former Deputy National Security Adviser to the Vice President Dick Cheney during the George W. Bush administration.

At the forum, during a discussion on religious persecution and the ethnic oppression of Tibetans and Uyghurs, Yates advised governments around the world to maintain their technological advantages and challenge China’s use of technology, which is being used to persecute people. “Make sure that those being persecuted know they do not stand alone,” Yates added.

The Forum invited political and religious leaders from around the world to conduct three days of discussions on the topic of rising to the challenge of global religious persecution.