LONDON—A seminar in Cambridge for officials from the infamous Chinese Public Security Bureau at which speakers were to be banned from bringing up human rights has been cancelled.
Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University, had been told by the seminar’s organiser not to mention Tibet or cyber espionage during his speech, so as not to “embarrass” the delegates.
He said the seminar was called off because the organiser’s position was “ethically indefensible.”
The 24 officials from the Ministry of Public Security were due to meet at Trinity Hall, Cambridge on Aug. 12-14 for a conference on intelligence technologies in the United Kingdom, organised by the Cambridge-based Centre for Business and Public Sector Ethics (CBPSE), which is not affiliated with Cambridge University.
In response to an email published on Tibettruth.com, a not-for-profit network, the CBPSE wrote that they were not hosting the delegates and that “the delegation of Chinese police officers were granted UK visas to study how the UK police deal with respecting citizen’s rights.”
The centre also wrote that the delegation is scheduled to have sessions with other UK organisations during their 20-day visit.
Director of the CBPSE and organiser of the seminar, Dr. Rosamund Thomas wrote a letter that was published in The Sunday Times, and in it she announced the seminar was cancelled because of a Sunday Times’ article released at the end of July.
In The Sunday Times article, ‘Britain Welcomes Chinese Spooks,’ academics expressed their concerns on the lack of openness at the proposed gathering for the Chinese delegates in Cambridge.
Chairman of the intelligence and security committee, Sir Malcolm Rifkind told The Sunday Times: “There’s a fundamental difference between intelligence agencies and issues of that kind in an authoritarian state and democratic state. And these issues should be brought into the open.
“So I’m certainly disappointed that this academic group doesn’t feel able to allow issues involving human rights to be raised because they’re very central to the role of intelligence and security in China.”
Dr. Thomas, however, wrote that the centre covers human rights from a legal perspective, and that the centre found Glees’ suggestions to be “too political.”
Yet the majority of citizens living in China today would want to bring up the topic of human rights abuses at such a seminar, according to Annie Yang.
Yang, a practitioner of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong suffered severe human rights abuses first-hand. In 1999 the then-head of the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang Zemin, fearing Falun Gong’s popularity, launched a campaign to eradicate the practice.
In March 2005 eight Chinese police officers burst into her home and took her away as her son watched. She was sentenced without trial to 2 years at a labour camp, where she suffered torture and abuse aimed at forcing her to renounce her beliefs.
Now a UK resident, Yang felt the seminar would have been a good opportunity to raise the issue of human rights abuses to the Chinese delegation.
“Westerners really should help to improve the human rights situation in China. I think Chinese people are very grateful for their actions,” she said.
“The organiser is probably frightened to upset this delegation” she said, “people often say human rights are very important but they take no action.”
Reaction to the ethical nature of the seminar reached beyond the UK, to Maura Moynihan in New York, an activist for the Tibetan cause.
Moynihan likens the Chinese Ministry of Security to the Gestapo. Since the communist Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1949, over one million Tibetans have died, with 100,000 tortured to death, she said.
An unsigned article published on Tibettruth.com said, “it is entirely baffling how a serious research body such as the CBPSE would extend a welcome to those engaged in torture, censorship and oppression.”
Glees said: “I’m not even sure if Dr. Thomas knows who she’s invited… She should consider whether she’s playing with fire.”
According to The Sunday Times, the delegate list included officers Fan Ke who works for the ministry’s Third Research Institute, close to Unit 61398 recently identified as launching cyber attacks on the West, and Tian Zhenyu, who is connected to the deportation, imprisonment or death of North Korean refugee families.
Glees said media pressure played a role in the cancellation of the seminar.
“A strong and free press, acting within the law but at liberty to tell the truth is a vital safeguard against power being abused, whether by governments, rich individuals or misguided individuals,” he said.
He added, “We need very clear ethical values, when it comes to international security. We need to stand up and say ‘no.’”