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Beijing is listening to our silence

ICC Note:

The West is called to break its silence in regard to the rampant human right’s abuses playing out in China each day. International pressure has helped ease the cases of numerous prisoners and it should be utilized in every case, especially as we lead up to the Olympics – an event which some say is causing the Chinese government to further violate the rights of its people while the rest of the world watches on in silence.

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1/18/2008 China (National Post) The fact that Time magazine named Zeng Jinyan, right, one of the world’s 100 most influential people did not help her much on Dec. 27, when 30 Chinese agents arrested her husband, prominent rights activist Hu Jia.

Security agents showed up at the couple’s Beijing apartment with a warrant for “subversion against the state,” a catch-all phrase used to lock up pretty much anyone who says something the Communist Party does not like. Despite liver problems and a two-month-old daughter, Hu now potentially faces years in prison.

Three months ago, one of his best friends — leading rights attorney Gao Zhisheng — met a similar fate. On Sept. 22, Gao, who like Hu had recently questioned the legitimacy of Beijing hosting the Olympic Games, was apparently taken by plainclothes police from the home he shares with his wife and two children. He has not been seen since.

Hu and Gao’s work has focused on different issues. Hu is an environmental and AIDS activist, while Gao has represented the gamut of China’s “have-nots,” from disabled children to coal miners to evicted tenants. As a Christian, he is particularly passionate about defending victims of religious persecution, especially house-church members and people who practise Falun Gong.

As the Olympics approach, there is a prevalent sense that the world is in for a spectacular display of anti-Communist Party demonstrations, potentially met by violent repression. Here in the West, this is often accompanied by an implied attitude of “let’s watch and see what happens,” as if we were not a party to this battle.

But we already are, certainly when these rights defenders are getting in trouble precisely for asking our help. Gao was detained in September within days of sending a letter to U.S. Congress stating the Olympics are hurting the Chinese people and should be boycotted. Hu Jia expressed similar sentiments last month when he testified via webcam at a European Parliament briefing on China.

But the dynamic works both ways. With every arrest, Party leaders watch to see how the world will react. When there’s silence, when Western states continue to dutifully roll out the red carpet for every Chinese delegation, when abuses barely get mentioned at press conferences, then Chinese security agencies step up arrests. That is exactly what we have seen happen for the past year and a half.

And it is already playing out in Hu’s case. With no outcry from the International Olympic Committee or Western governments since his detention, his lawyers are now blocked from visiting him, placing him at greater risk of torture.

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