As the Beijing Olympics get under way I am appealing to ConservativeHome readers to take time to think about the atrocities that are happening in China behind the façade of the Games and to join me in asking Gordon Brown to raise the issue of the forgotten, imprisoned and tortured opponents of the ruling Communist Party.
A few months ago I said on Newsnight that China is a ‘terror state’ to explain my campaign for a political boycott of the Olympics. I wish the sportsmen well but I want politicians and senior figures to protest at China’s appalling – and worsening – human rights record, in Tibet, in Darfur and in China itself.
By coincidence I had dinner with Prince Charles that night at the British Embassy in Brussels, where he confirmed his decision not to attend. When Steven Spielberg pulled out of designing the opening ceremony my campaign took off. The architect of the ‘bird’s nest’ stadium, Ai Weiwei, had already said he would stay away because of China’s ‘appalling’ political conditions.
President Sarkozy weighed in by declaring, after the Olympic flame propaganda shambles, that he had not made up his mind. Chancellor Merkel has refused to attend, as has the Canadian PM Stephen Harper.
I initiated a debate in the European Parliament just before we broke for the summer recess on the eve of President Sarkozy’s speech to MEPs on his priorities for France’s six-month EU presidency. I said ‘keep politics out of sport – keep Sarkozy out of Beijing’.
Many MEPs wanted a political boycott, as increasing reports of massive
purge of dissidents and religious activists filter out of China. The
regime is using terror as never before to control dissent. Every
speaker but one condemned China and criticised Sarkozy, who sadly
announced that day that he would go after all. I suppose that France’s
nuclear and Airbus contracts must weigh with him.
Even though the current President of the European Council, President
Sarkozy, is going the other two institutions – the European Parliament
President, Hans-Gert Poettering and the President of the European
Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso – are both overtly boycotting the
ceremony as is Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the foreign affairs
commissioner. So in EU terms my campaign has been successful.
Any politician planning to attend should first get informed about what happens in the real, hidden China.
Last month I submitted a dossier to the UN on torture and religious
freedom in China. It details the treatment of just two of the people I
had contact with during my last visit to Beijing, in May 2006. All
were subsequently arrested, some imprisoned, and three have been
Mr Cao Dong was a tour guide in Beijing. When I met him he was 42. He
was terrified, but he came to a dingy hotel room to tell me about his
life in a prison camp in North East China. There are about 15 such
camps in that province alone, each holding thousands of the seven million
Chinese undergoing forced labour, or for many, torture.
Cao Dong said that one evening, his best friend was taken from their
cell. Next, he saw his friend’s cadaver in the morgue with holes where
body parts had been removed.
Cao Dong was one of hundreds of thousands of one religious group which
the UN’s torture specialist, Dr Manfred Nowak, believes make up the
majority of torture victims. Falun Gong is a harmless and popular
Buddha-school set of spiritual exercises.
The popularity of Falun Gong is in part the belief by all practitioners
I have met that they have been cured of some malady, and that is
important in a country without a health service. Practitioners neither
smoke nor drink, and many believe that executed practitioners have been
the source for the 40 – 60,000 recent extra organ transplant
operations, a profitable monopoly organised by the People’s Liberation
Falun Gong was founded in 1992, and by 1999 the movement had between 70
– 100 million adherents when the paranoid premier Jiang Zemin decided
to persecute it. A Gestapo-like network of ‘610 Offices’ in most towns
and cities, named after the June 10 1999 decree which initiated the
scourge, systematically arrests, imprisons and tortures these innocent
people, whose watchwords are ‘truthfulness, compassion, forbearance’.
Although there are millions of them they do not have a cuddly,
statesmanlike figurehead such as the Dalai Lama and, because they will
not openly demonstrate like the Tibetans and their supporters, they
perish and go to their deaths silently.
Earlier this year, the regime announced that it was moving to lethal
injection from execution by a bullet through the head – the mouth was
propped open to minimise damage, but still a messy way to kill. It is
not hard to understand this change. In one province alone, 16 buses
have been specially adapted to perform on-the-spot eviscerations.
Another interview I had in Beijing was with Mr Niu Jinping, then 52,
another former prisoner. He told me how his wife was being beaten black
and blue in the nearby Beijing Women’s Labour Camp, and had lost her
sight and hearing. He had lost his job, sold his house, and now
subsisted on tips for guarding cars; he was destitute and desperate.
At one point his wife was taken unconscious to the prison hospital
after a particularly severe beating caused a cerebral haemorrhage.
Zhang Lianying, now 48, was released in December 2007 after she and her
husband – both practitioners – were invited to give evidence to a
European Parliament hearing on human rights in China. Both were
rearrested in April this year as part of the pre-Olympic crackdown,
especially severe in Beijing.
I have written to Gordon Brown who will be attending the closing
ceremony to ask him to intervene on behalf of a Christian human rights
lawyer, Gao Zisheng, renowned for his defense of the rights of the
Chinese people who has been missing since last September. I am also
seeking help for the release of Hu Jia, a human rights activist and
cofounder of Friends of Gao Zhisheng, who is also in prison. I was in
contact with both during my last visit to Beijing, in May 2006.
My hope is to call on whoever represents the British government to
discuss Gao and Hu Jia with China’s leadership directly and publicly.
Gao Zhisheng, a Nobel Prize nominee who is sometimes referred to as
“China’s conscience,” has been missing since he wrote an open letter to
me in September 2007 and later to the U.S. Congress expressing his
concerns about human rights before the 2008 Olympics. Gao and his
family have been persecuted before for open letters he has written to
the highest levels of the Chinese regime calling for an end to the
persecution of Falun Gong, though he is not a Falun Gong practitioner
As the Foreign Office are aware, Gao was tortured earlier this year for
two months -so severely that he tried to take his own life twice. The
torture methods were similar to those used systematically to Falun Gong
practitioners, as Gao described in his third open letter to the Chinese
regime, after his investigation into the persecution since 1999 of
these blameless people.
I have received information this week that Gao has been removed out of
his house arrest in Beijing for the duration of the Games.
As described in his book A China More Just (Broad Press USA 2007) Gao
has defended the rights of house-church members, coal miners,
petitioners, home-demolition victims, and Falun Gong adherents. He was
deemed one of China’s top ten lawyers in the past, before his defense
of Falun Gong practitioners.
Hu Jia is a well-known activist in China and an internationally
recognized Chinese rights defender. Hu was involved in the democratic
movement, as well as environmental and HIV/AIDS issues. Hu and his wife
Zeng Jinyan received a 2007 special press freedom award from Reporters
without Borders, and were also nominated for the Sakharov Award for
Freedom of Expression of the European Parliament. On three occasions
last year I organised his contributions by live telephone to
conferences in the European Parliament on Olympic degradation.
Hu worked tirelessly on the rescue of Gao Zhisheng and is the founder
of Friends of Gao Zhisheng. Hu was arrested in December 2007, three
months after Gao was taken away from home, and in April of this year
was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for talking to
foreign media and publishing articles on the Internet. Hu’s wife is now
under house arrest with the youngest prisoner in the world – their
11-month old daughter whom has been under house arrest since she was
three months old.
I hope Gordon Brown will act on my letter as I fear this is the last
chance that we will have to make the case for them. Once the last
firework is lit at the closing ceremony of the games, there is likely
to be a hard crackdown and the world will forget my friends and carry
on trading with China, ignoring human rights.
Earlier in the year when Gordon Brown visited China he ignored all
representations to him and the journalists travelling with him were
taken aback at his steadfast refusal to discuss the issue. Indeed,
BBC’s Nick Robinson was so astonished that he continually mentioned
this on consecutive days in reporting for the Today programme. We even
had a telephone call from the Downing Street Press office asking for
the dossier that I had written for him and the media pack.
If we had known what was already taking place in Germany’s camps in
1936, the Olympics would not have taken place in Berlin. When US
Supreme Court judge Felix Frankfurter was told in 1942 about the death
camps by the young Pole Jan Karski, he said “I did not say the young
man was lying. I said that I am unable to believe him. There is a
There is ample evidence that the regime in Beijing is guilty of what
amounts to genocide against sections of the population under its
control. A boycott of the Games, held under the Olympic banner of
‘universal fundamental ethical principles’, is the least we can expect
of our leading politicians.