Pope Francis has for the first time called China’s Muslim Uighurs a “persecuted” people, something human rights activists have been urging him to do for years.
In the wide-ranging book Let Us Dream: the Path to a Better Future, he said: “I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi” in a section where he also talks about persecuted Christians in Islamic countries.
The pope has spoken out before about the Rohingya who have fled Myanmar, and the killing of Yazidi by Islamic State in Iraq, but it is the first time he has mentioned Uighurs.
Faith leaders, activist groups and governments have said crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place against the Uighur Muslim minority in China’s remote Xinjiang region, where more than 1 million people are held in camps.
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.
In the book – a 150-page collaboration with his English-language biographer Austen Ivereigh, due out in December – Francis also said the Covid-19 pandemic should spur governments to consider permanently establishing a universal basic income. He speaks of economic, social and political changes he says are needed to address inequalities after the pandemic ends.
He also said people who see wearing masks as an imposition by the state were “victims only in their imagination” and praised those who protested against the death of George Floyd in police custody for rallying around the “healthy indignation” that united them.
Francis’s support for 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 – was his clearest yet.
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 non-earners 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.”
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”.