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Pope, for first time, says China’s Uighurs are ‘persecuted’

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In a new book, Pope Francis for the first time calls China’s Muslim Uighurs a “persecuted” people, something human rights activists have been urging him to do for years.

In the wide-ranging “Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future,” Francis also says the COVID-19 pandemic should spur governments to consider permanently establishing a universal basic income.

In the book, a 150-page collaboration with his English-language biographer, Austen Ivereigh, Francis speaks of economic, social and political changes he says are needed to address inequalities after the pandemic ends. It goes on sale on Dec. 1.

He also says people who see wearing masks as an imposition by the state are “victims only in their imagination” and praises those who protested against the death of George Floyd in police custody for rallying around the “healthy indignation” that united them.

“I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi,” he said in a section where he also talks about persecuted Christians in Islamic countries.

While the pope has spoken out before about the Rohingya who have fled Myanmar, and the killing of Yazidi by Islamic State in Iraq, it was the first time he mentioned the Uighurs.

Faith leaders, activist groups and governments have said crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place against Uighurs in China’s remote Xinjiang region, where more than 1 million people are held in camps.

Last month, during a conference at the Vatican, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted China over its treatment of Uighurs.

Beijing has rejected the allegations as a attempt to discredit China, saying the camps are vocational education and training centres as part of counter-terrorism and deradicalisation measures.

Many commentators have said the Vatican was reluctant to speak out on the Uighurs earlier because it was in the process of renewing a controversial accord with Beijing on the appointment of bishops. The accord, which Pompeo urged the Vatican to abandon, was renewed in September.

Francis also gives his clearest support to date in the book to universal basic income (UBI), a controversial policy espoused by some economists and sociologists in which governments give a fixed amount of money to each citizen with no conditions attached. 

UBI was a cornerstone of the campaign of Andrew Yang last year during the Democratic presidential primaries in the United States.

“Recognising the value to society of the work of nonearners

is a vital part of our rethinking in the post-Covid world. That’s why I believe it is time to explore concepts like the universal basic income (UBI) …” he said.

“By providing a universal basic income, we can free and enable people to work for the community in a dignified way,” he said.

Francis again criticised trickle-down economics, the theory favoured by conservatives that tax breaks and other incentives for big business and the wealthy eventually will benefit the rest of society through investment and job creation.

He called it “the false assumption of the infamous trickle-down theory that a growing economy will make us all richer.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing By Tom Brown)

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