‘We Will Not Be Silent,’ Liberal MP Irwin Cotler Joins Protest at Chinese Embassy
Members of the Uyghur, Darfurian, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Burmese, and Falun Gong communities joined Reporters without Borders and leading politicians and activists at a protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Ottawa on August 7.
“We’re gathered here today to show solidarity with the people of China. We stand behind their human rights,” said rally host Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a former Miss World Canada and president and co-founder of the Stop Child Executions organization.
The groups demanded that China honour its promise to respect human rights, a condition upon which it was awarded the Games in 2001.
They also called on the world’s governments to pressure the Chinese regime to live up to its promises.
“Those now in Beijing should insist that the host honour its commitments,” said former Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour.
“They should ask for the release of imprisoned Chinese journalists, the remaining Tiananmen prisoners, those jailed for peaceful Olympic criticism, and an end to the persecution of the Falun Gong community,” he said, adding that “human rights across China—already among the most systematically violated — have deteriorated further over the past year.”
‘Their Deeds Mock Their Words’
The rally followed a press conference on Parliament Hill where Liberal MP and former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler released a report identifying 11 key areas of human rights violations in China.
Included among these were the regime’s crackdown on Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners and other persecuted groups, the death penalty, suppression of the press and its support for the violent regimes of Darfur, Zimbabwe, Burma, and Nepal.
Mr. Cotler protested the awarding of the games to China seven years ago.
“I said, we should not be rewarding a culture of impunity,” he said. “When the games were awarded, the Chinese government said, we will respect human rights, we will respect media freedom, and as they put it, ‘we will translate these words into deeds.’ Well, seven years later, their deeds mock their words.”
Abuses Needing Media Attention
While the speakers decried the awarding of the games to the Chinese regime, many also saw the Olympics as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on its human rights abuses.
“Everything has gone wrong for them and maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. I think now a lot of people are seeing the true state of the Chinese state in China,” said Mr. Kilgour in an interview following the rally.
Mr. Kilgour and Winnipeg-based international human rights lawyer David Matas co-authored an independent report on the regime’s systematic organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners.
Mr. Kilgour also condemned China’s forced labour camps in which prisoners of conscience are jailed without trial and forced to work 16-hour days with little food and no pay creating products that range from chopsticks to Christmas decorations.
He particularly noted recent reports that well-known lawyer Gao Zhisheng is suffering torture in Chinese custody. Mr. Gao has strongly and publicly spoken out on behalf of many oppressed groups in China.
“David Matas and I nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is one the bravest human beings on this earth and he is being tortured, I gather, right now,” said Mr. Kilgour.
Pamela McLennan of the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong said her organization has published a reporters’ guide to Beijing’s labour camps. It includes directions, contact information, and prisoners’ profiles of some of China’s most infamous labour camps near Olympic venues.
Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners are unlawfully detained in these camps for their spiritual belief, she said.
‘Create a New Reality’
Kevin McLeod, director of Canadian Friends of Burma, said the military regime in Burma “can’t continue to do their oppression without support of allies like China, Russia, and India.” He called on Canadians and multi-national corporations to know where their investments are going when they invest in regimes like Burma and China.
Kalbinur Semseddin of the Uyghur Canadian Association noted that her people are under the control of China and “there is no human rights, no religious freedom, no chance to learn our own languages.” She urged Canada to help Uyghur-Canadian Huseyin Celil, who has been imprisoned in China since March 2006.
Johannes Sawassi, who is writing a book on Darfur, said that in Darfur the Chinese regime is “arming a certain group in order to get rich from the other group” and “90 per cent are suffering because of your mistreatment.”
“The Chinese communist regime has more than 1,300 missiles pointed at Taiwan,” said Mr. Chen of the Taiwanese-Canadian Association about the regime’s aggression toward Taiwan.
RWB executive director Katherine Borlongan said, “Reporters without Borders has been asking for liberations and we put emphasis on Olympic prisoners…. the journalists, human rights activists and cyber dissidents that are behind bars.”
Beryl Wajsman, president of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal, called on Canadians to stand up against oppression and join the “wave of freedom.”
“Words make reality. Actions like this create a new reality… And just as the Wall came down in Berlin, so will all walls come down,” he said.
“We will not be silent, we will not be indifferent, we will continue, we will be relentless in raising our voice and acting in the pursuit of freedom for all,” said Mr. Cotler.