Updated: November 16, 2022 11:30 AM GMT
Britain's King Charles III salutes as he and Camilla, Queen Consort make their way by car to Windsor on Sept. 19 after the State Funeral Service of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. (Photo: AFP)
Britain’s King Charles III will be more constrained in what he can say, now that he is monarch. Under Britain’s constitutional arrangements, the sovereign must stay above party politics and generally avoid political comment.
During his more than six decades as Prince of Wales, he indicated there are certain issues about which he is deeply passionate. The environment is one, and he was prophetic in his warnings about climate change. Religious freedom, inter-faith dialogue, human rights and humanitarian causes are among the others.
Almost a decade ago, the then Prince of Wales said that “for some time now” he had been “deeply troubled” by the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Divisions, he said, had been "achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organized persecution.”
Christianity, he noted, “was literally born in the Middle East, and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ.” We cannot, he added, “ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants.”
Those remarks were by no means a one-off. Over the past ten years, he has consistently spoken out about the persecution of Christians.
He also acknowledged that such persecution was not confined to the Middle East, but found also “in some African nations and in many countries across Asia.”
"Every year over the past decade, he made some intervention ... to highlight the persecution of Christians and other violations of religious freedom"
But as well as highlighting the persecution of Christians, he was always clear about the need to respect and defend religious freedom for all. He spoke of the persecution of Muslims and Yazidis, for example, and called on faith leaders “not to remain silent” and to “ensure that people within their own tradition respect people from other faith traditions."
He urged governments to uphold Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects freedom of religion, and called on people and communities to "engage in building respect and tolerance" for without these "the very freedom on which society is built is threatened with destruction.”
In 2018, he spoke at a service in Westminster Abbey, telling the congregation: “We can only give thanks for the truly remarkable strength of the Faith with which so many Christians face persecution and which gives them the courage and the determination to endure, and to overcome.”
He recalled meeting a Dominican Sister from Nineveh who had driven a group of Christians to safety as Daesh (ISIS) extremists attacked Qaraqosh.
In 2021, the then Prince Charles visited Jordan and Egypt, specifically to promote inter-faith dialogue and tolerance. In December of that same year, he met survivors of religious persecution from around the world, at an Advent service in London’s Holy Trinity Brompton Church.
Indeed, every year over the past decade, he made some intervention, usually during Advent, to highlight the persecution of Christians and other violations of religious freedom around the world.
"The lights of our collective faith can do much to illuminate the darkness in our world"
Only two months ago, the man who is now our king gave the opening remarks at an international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief, organized and hosted by the British government and attended by more than 600 delegates from over 100 countries.
He warned that the world is “at a crossroads” and there is “a choice to be made between totalitarian and liberal societies.” And he called, once again, for freedom of religion to be embedded in education, business, and social media.
“The rights to freedom of religion or belief are enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said. “We must do all in our collective power to ensure that this commitment is met with deeds, not just words. This essential principle must be embedded in government, education, business, the media, and social media and right across our communities. The lights of our collective faith can do much to illuminate the darkness in our world.”
The new British monarch’s wider humanitarianism is also clear. Over the decades he has met the Dalai Lama several times, with the Tibetan spiritual leader describing the future king as “the best of friends,” “a very nice person” and “a good human.”
In 2015, the then prince missed a state banquet for Xi Jinping during the Chinese leader’s visit to Britain, an act interpreted as a rebuke to China for its human rights record. He did the same to Xi’s predecessor Jiang Zemin in 1999. And after being in Hong Kong for the handover ceremony in 1997, at which China assumed sovereignty over the former British colony, the then prince’s private diary, later leaked to the media, recorded his thoughts.
“At the end of this awful Soviet-style display we had to watch the Chinese soldiers goose-step onto the stage and haul down the Union Jack and raise the ultimate flag,” he wrote. He described the Chinese dictators as “appalling old waxworks.” And he noted: “In the background was the sneaking worry about creeping corruption and the gradual undermining of Hong Kong’s greatest asset — the rule of law… Thus we left Hong Kong to her fate and the hope that Martin Lee, the leader of the Democrats, would not be arrested..." A quarter of a century later, his worries became reality.
"I am amazed again and again by the love that The Prince of Wales has for my people and our country"
As Prince of Wales, he took a close interest in Myanmar too, meeting Aung San Suu Kyi on her visits to London in 2012 and 2013. He had known the Myanmar democracy leader’s late husband, Michael Aris, a Tibet scholar, and was a patron of the Michael Aris Memorial Trust for Tibetan and Himalayan Studies.
In 2014, the then prince met my good friend Dr Sasa, a young medical doctor from a remote village in Chin State, Myanmar, who had studied medicine in Armenia. Sasa had founded a remarkable small charity (actually conceived in my family’s sitting room), called Health and Hope, which trains primary healthcare workers in remote parts of Myanmar. Through a series of connections, he was introduced to the prince, who offered to become the Patron of Health and Hope. Dr Sasa went on to meet the prince several times, in Clarence House and at Sandringham, and wrote these words after one of their meetings:
“It seems impossible that a village boy from a remote part of Chin State, Myanmar, could ever meet with The Prince of Wales. It seems even more impossible, that he knows me by name and that I would be met by such friendship, hospitality and concern. How could The Prince of Wales even know about me? How could he express an interest in what I have been doing for my people? It has been such an honor to meet with His Royal Highness again and to be counted as his friend. I am amazed again and again by the love that The Prince of Wales has for my people and our country, despite us living in the most faraway place. The Prince has encouraged me more than I could ever ask for and the warmness, love and support that he has shown, will remain in me and has given me the courage to never give up the good work that we have been doing.”
Dr Sasa is now the Minister for International Cooperation in Myanmar’s government-in-exile, the National Unity Government (NUG). On Feb. 1, 2021, he was in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, as the military seized power in a coup d’etat, overthrowing the democratically elected government led by Suu Kyi.
As Prince of Wales, he had the freedom to openly champion the causes outlined here, and many others besides. As King Charles III, he will not be able to be as overt. But those around Asia and beyond, who care about religious freedom and human rights, or who are suffering repression, can be assured that, whether spoken or unspoken, they have a friend in Britain’s new King.
*Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is Senior Analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organization CSW, the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign. He is the author of six books, and his faith journey is told in his book “From Burma to Rome: A Journey into the Catholic Church” (Gracewing, 2015). His new book, “The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny”, will be published in October 2022 by Optimum Publishing International. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.