Taken from the Catholic Universe 20 October 2013
In February of this year I was privileged to be invited to attend Parliament where the blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng was presented with the inaugural Westminster Award for his work in promoting human rights, human life and human dignity.
The whole of the packed Grand Committee Room rose and gave Chen a standing ovation as he was presented with the award by Lord Alton of Liverpool and Fiona Bruce MP, who described him as a ‘beacon of bravery’.
Chen came to the attention of the Communist regime when he used class-action lawsuits to defend the rights of rural farmers against corrupt and and tyrannical officials. In China one does not need to be lawyer in order to act as a legal representative in court and so he assisted others in filing and arguing cases in court. His campaigning spread from helping to campaign against a polluting paper mill, to exposing the discrimination of the sick and disabled and the violence of family planning officials who routinely arrest and drag women off for enforced abortions and sterilisations, under China’s one-child policy.
As a result of his campaigning, Chen was sentenced to four years imprisonment, followed by permanent house arrest upon completion of his sentence. During this time both Chen and his wife were subject to regular beatings until they managed to escape to the USA. His family still in China still face persecution and are denied hospital treatment and medical care.
Upon accepting his award, Chen’s voice trembled as he recounted the terrible abuses of human rights that he had been party to, whilst advocating for the rights of the vulnerable. In one particularly harrowing case, he described how the mother of a three-year old girl was arrested and detained for twenty-four days. The police ignored the mother’s desperate pleas to be allowed home to feed her child and arrange for her to be cared for by relatives. When she was finally released, the woman returned home to find the little toddler dead from starvation, having left a trail of bloody footprints around the house and the bone in her finger exposed from attempting to break through the doors and windows of the house.
This brave activist explained the nature of the dictatorship of the ruling Chinese Communist Party ‘they can take your life as well as your property’. Since the one-child policy which began in 1979 was implemented, any respect for life has disappeared completely from China. Anyone who dares to speak out against the policy faces severe penalties, officials who state opposition will never receive job promotion and are subject to sackings. Those who violate the policy are subject to forced abortions and sterilisations, their families are persecuted, arrested, imprisoned or subject to swinging fines. In one city alone in 2005, there were over 120,000 forced abortions and sterilisations, including of women who were 8 or 9 months pregnant.
Reports confirming horrific abuses of human rights in China have emerged in the mainstream British press, with horrific photographs of women lying in bed with their dead baby placed next to them or in a bloody bucket on the floor, to serve as warning to others as to the consequences of having more than one child. Recently government bulldozers were deployed in Shandong province to flatten local villages after population targets were not met. When local women attempted to protest by blocking the road, the bulldozers simply ran over them without making any attempt to stop. In another case a local farmer was beaten to death by local officials because he and his wife had three children.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne has been in China this week, together with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, trying to promote and encourage closer trading and business links. He has announced plans to allow Chinese banks to apply to set up branches in the UK and negotiated an £8 billion pilot scheme in which London-based investors will be able to apply for a licence to use chinese currency to invest directly in Chinese shares and bonds. This will afford China a much larger stake and status in London’s financial markets which play a leading global role, as well as putting Chinese banks on the High Street.
Using tortuous analogies referring to Harry Potter and the amount of Chinese viewers who allegedly watch Downton Abbey, Boris Johnson has attempted to overhaul China’s image, breezily dismissing concerns about human rights by stating that it is not his primary concern as Mayor of London, telling BBC Radio’s flagship ‘Today’ programme that ‘I don’t walk into a meeting and say ‘’ I say you chaps, how’s freedom doing’. According to Boris, it doesn’t matter whether or not people are living in fear, as long as they are able to watch English period drama!
Trying to Anglicise the Chinese psyche in order to downplay the terrible abuses of human rights that are occurring under the dictatorship of the ruling Communist Party is grossly offensive and racist. The UK has aided and abetted the brutal and inhumane one-child policy via the UN’s Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
The UK has an illustrious history as defenders of human rights from Wilberforce to the fight against the Nazis. We should not be indifferent to the plight of the ordinary Chinese citizen enslaved by their government.
We must not put economic interests above individual human rights. We have a duty to confront the brutality of the Chinese regime instead succumbing to the Chinese economic hammer. William Hague has stated that the UK Government ‘holds tyrannical and repressive regimes to account and we make every possible effort to ensure that we live up to our own values and obligations’.
It doesn’t look much like it from where I’m standing. Chatting with Chen Guangcheng, I told him how grateful I was of his advocacy of women, from my perspective of the mother of four girls. His response was to throw back his head and roar with laughter. “Four girls, how wonderful” he chuckled, before adding sadly “not in my country. But perhaps one day soon”.