June 4th marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, which in mainland China is also known as the “June 4th incident.” Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students and Beijing locals had been on the square since April, to protest the totalitarian regime. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) labeled the gathering an “anti-revolutionary riot” and used it as an excuse to attack and kill unarmed students—possibly thousands according to some estimates.
But injustices in mainland China and around the world continue to this day. The ongoing persecution of religious groups and activists has not subsided. But like the “Tank Man,” who bravely blocked the way of Chinese tanks heading to Tiananmen Square, some have realized that it only takes one person to make a difference. Here are 9 celebrated figures who have been speaking out and standing up for human rights.
1. Richard Gere
Richard Gere has been an outspoken supporter of human rights issues since the 80s. In 1986, Gere went on a fact-finding mission in Nicaragua and Honduras where thousands of people were getting killed in armed conflicts. He then became interested in Buddhism, and has associated with the faith ever since.
After establishing “The Gere Foundation,” the actor has been providing relief assistance for Tibetans who have suffered from the repression of the CCP since the 50s. The regime has been violently trying to eradicate culture and religious belief in Tibet and the mainland. Gere has been frequently visiting the region and is in very close contact with the Dalai Lama himself. Gere also co-founded Tibet House US in 1987, which is the cultural center of the Dalai Lama.
Gere is said to be banned from entering mainland China because of his outspoken support of the Free Tibet Movement. But the veteran actor has also been reprimanded in Hollywood. Notably, in 1993 Gere was to present an Academy Award, but rather than reading off the teleprompter he used the opportunity to say a few words to the former Chairman of the Central Advisory Commission of the Communist Party to cease the persecution in Tibet. Ever since his speech, Gere has not been asked to present awards at the ceremony.
This Academy Award winning actor is known for being able to plan a whole range of challenging roles, but what he has recently displayed was an act of bravery deserving of more important accolades.
When Bale was visiting China for the premiere of his film “The Flowers of War,” he made an 8 hour cursory trip from Beijing to meet a “personal hero.” Bale wanted to shake the hand and thank the blind civil rights lawyer, Chen Guangcheng in his small village, but plainclothes security guards outside Gangchen’s village would not let Bale pass. They shooed away the actor and the CNN reporters who accompanied him, but not without the group catching the whole scene on video.
Angelina Jolie is a well known human rights activist who started her good deeds back in Cambodia when filming “Tomb Raider” in 2000. Jolie became a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador and then promoted to the position of a Special Envoy. As a Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie is well known for standing up for ending violence against children and women in conflict zones, and this is especially known through her directorial debut “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”
After meeting Brad Pitt on the set of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” in 2005, the two started the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation in honor of their eldest son Maddox and his homeland—Cambodia. Through the charity they have donated millions of dollars to humanitarian causes around the world.