SEATTLE—After traveling to 30 cities across North America, the Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) arrived in Seattle on Saturday where its flame was lit at Hing Hay Park.
Many local human rights activists turned out to support the event, including torture survivors, community groups and others. Supporters walked with the torch from Hing Hay Park through the downtown area, ending up at the Westlake Center in the heart of downtown Seattle.
Initiated by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (CIPFG) the HRTR began in Athens, Greece, last August. The relay is a worldwide grassroots movement calling for an end to human rights violations in China before the Bejing Olympics in August.
Seattle City Council member Nick Licata, a speaker at the rally, related the story of how his wife and daughter living in China had to leave the city they lived in because of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
He compared the symbolic image of the lone unarmed "tank man" — who stood in front of oncoming tanks with arms raised in the sky — to HRTR's campaign of raising human rights. He also called attention to the need for people to stand together against oppression.
"The righteousness of the cause of human dignity, of human rights, to speak freely for one's own beliefs, the right to live peacefully in one's own culture, is a basic right that knows no national boundaries," said Licata.
"Once you go down the path of allowing government to define how one should live to the extent that one cannot even pick up a phone or use the internet or express oneself through email makes all of us less of a human being and literally, slaves to the state."
Sophie Liu, a recent immigrant from China, recounted her harrowing experience of being detained in a labor camp for practicing Falun Gong. She said that when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) started its persecution of Falun Gong in 1999 she was detained four separate times and was sent to several different labor camps and detainment centers.
A spiritual discipline which follows the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance, Falun Gong has been brutally suppressed by the Chinese regime since 1999.
"I was forced into a little cage and was not allowed to go to the bathroom because I would not say slanderous things about Falun Gong. I was also beaten by the police and have a permanent scar on my head. Many Falun Gong practitioners were shocked with electric batons as well, and I was injected with unknown drugs."
Liu also described being forced to perform slave labor in a factory.
"We were forced to make chopsticks and clothing without pay—the environment there was very dirty, we had no choice and made our own toilet in our room out of a wooden barrel. Meanwhile, we were not able to wash our hands and clothes. Once the guards figured this out, they beat us."
She said that while she was detained, the guards would perform blood tests for only Falun Gong practitioners, and she linked this with the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) heinous practice of illicit organ harvesting.
Forced harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners' organs was confirmed by Bloody Harvest, an investigative report co-authored by former MP David Kilgour and Winnipeg-based human rights lawyer David Matas. After a two-month hunger strike, Liu was eventually released. However, several of her friends were either "tortured to death or to the point of insanity" and many have disappeared.
Liu concluded by saying the Chinese regime is becoming increasingly secretive in its persecution of Falun Gong practitioners while escalating the number of arrests before the Olympics.
Larry Dhors is head of the Seattle Burma Roundtable, a human rights group that raises awareness of rights abuses in Burma and the CCP's ties to and support of the Burmese regime.
"The CCP provided over one billion dollars in weapons as well as financial, political, and diplomatic support to the Burmese military regime in its ongoing war against its own people. That war has destroyed more than 3,000 villages in Burma alone and there are a million internally displaced people who have been driven out of their villages, while three million have fled abroad," said Dhors.
Dhors added that the military junta is still refusing to allow outsiders in to Burma to help out after the devastating cyclone on May 2, which killed an estimated 100,000 people.
"The world is standing by to help these people and the Burmese military is not allowing the international community to assist the Burmese people... this constitutes mass murder. The Chinese Government has actively blocked at the UN Security Council level attempts to force the Burmese military regime to allow international assistance."
Jamp Thubten, a former Tibetan monk, was forced into exile when he was young and was raised in India. He briefly outlined the human rights situation in Tibet, saying the 1950's and 1960's were "the darkest period, with millions being killed due to persecution" by the Chinese regime.
Also, he touched on how China isolates its own people from the rest of the world and still continues to persecute people even though China has improved economically and technologically.
Huo Ming Xue was a democracy activist during the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre and he shared his personal experiences. After he left Tiananmen Square, he was "traced for arrest" by the police and was forced to leave home for three months. However, unknown to Xue his home was being monitored and he was arrested as soon as he returned.
He was imprisoned for two years, which he said was like "living in hell due to suffering from endless beatings, mental abuse, and humiliation."
Xue was put in a cell with ten other people who were simply normal criminal offenders while he was the only political prisoner, and the guards forced the criminal prisoners to "abuse and monitor the political prisoners." Disease was rampant within the prison which "made his entire body extremely itchy and later it became rotten."
A few years later Xue escaped to Russia but his family was monitored all the time and eventually the government forced his wife to divorce him and never speak to him again.
He said that this is nothing new for the CCP, who "since its inception has murdered countless innocent people—80 million Chinese people were persecuted to death."
The final speech was from local rights activist Benjamin Ross, who talked about internationally renowned human rights lawyer Gao Zhizheng and his arrest for defending groups such as Christians and Falun Gong practitioners.
Live music was provided by J-Minus, Carol Casey, Artis the Spoonman, HeartThink, and Kels Boreen.
With its slogan, "Olympics and crimes against humanity cannot coexist in China," HRTR is calling on China to release all prisoners of conscience and end the persecution of Falun Gong, Christians, human rights lawyers and "all who have become prisoners of the Olympics as a consequence of China's pre-Games whitewash."
HRTR condemns the arrest of close to 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners since January 1 and China's support of the regimes of Sudan, Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe.