Britain holding tyrants to account? It doesn’t look much like it to me?

Taken from the Catholic Universe 20 October 2013

Chinese Human Rights campaigner Chen Guancheng
Chinese Human Rights campaigner Chen Guancheng

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”.

A beacon of bravery

As Madeleine Teahan reports, the whole of the Grand Committee Room, rose to its feet and gave human rights campaigner Chen Guacheng a standing ovation upon his entrance last night.

Introduced as a ‘beacon of bravery’ by Fiona Bruce MP, vice-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life group, upon accepting the inaugural Westminster Award for the Promotion of Human Life, Human Rights and Human Dignity, Chen said that the award was given ‘not to me but to the hundreds of thousands of human rights activists who are suffering in China’.

Speaking through an interpreter, the blind activist told of the harrowing consequences of the enforcement of China’s one-child policy and explained that the root cause of China’s problems was that its dictatorship had not been removed. Every aspect of government in China is controlled by the communist party who are not held accountable to anyone.

Despite having told the story many times, Chen’s voice cracked as he recounted the story of how a three year old girl was starved to death in her own home following the arrest of her mother, who pleaded with the police to allow her back home in order to ensure her little girl was fed and adequately cared for whilst she was in custody. Passing by the door of her home, the police refused to let her enter and she was taken directly to a detention centre with her starving child locked in the house. Twenty one days later, a neighbour broke into the woman’s house in order to investigate a stench and found the body of a little child, together with bloody footprints and scratch marks at the windows and doors where the little girl had been frantically attempting to get out. The child had been crying so hard, there were tears still imprinted on her face.

This, said Chen, is the nature of dictatorship, it cares nothing for the loss of human life. The consequences of resistance under a dictatorship means that you are persecuted and regarded as an enemy of the state. Not only can the state take your home and possessions and strip you of a living, but they can also take your life and your body.

Though in China there is no legal instrument that forces or compels officials to implement the one-child policy, any party or government official not recognised as doing a good job in enforcing the policy will be denied any sort of promotion, so party officials will do anything possible to be seen to be implementing these draconian measures. In 2005, in one city alone, there were 120-130,000 forced abortions and sterilisations. Some women were even dragged to hospital and forced to have abortions when 9 months pregnant and at the point of giving birth. Many pregnant women went into hiding, at which point all of their friends and family members were dragged to Family Planning offices and severely tortured for several weeks. According to Chen’s investigation in 6 months in 2005, 600,000 family members were tortured, with the women who had been forced into hiding being too frightened to ever return home.

This is a policy which still continues today, as we saw last year, when the photograph of the case of a Chinese woman who was forcibly given a late stage abortion with the body of her dead child placed next to her as a warning, made global headlines. In recent years there have been two cases in one province of bulldozers crushing women’s heads as they lay on the ground in protest. All over China, citizens are being arrested, imprisoned, tortured and sent to labour centres. News of the frequent protests never reach the outside world.

Drawing on the UK’s illustrious history as defenders of human rights, from Wilberforce to the fight against the Nazis, Chen told of how the UK has left a deep positive imprint on the history of humankind. He urged the UK to continue its tradition of intolerance against human rights abuses and not to be indifferent to the plight of the ordinary Chinese citizen who is enslaved by the Communist Party. He spoke with sadness at how trade interests seem to be being put above human rights by Western democracies, who do not seek to challenge China, with human rights negotiations being held behind closed doors. Lord Alton noted that it was telling that despite his tenacious pursuit of human rights and his being awarded asylum in the USA upon his escape, not one single Government minister agreed or found time to meet him. What sort of message does that send to those in Beijing who put trade deals before human rights?

Not once did Chen refer to his own ordeal and there was no hint of self-pity in his words, but his message was one of profound sadness and concern for his still beloved country, to which he hopes to one day return, intermingled with optimism. He believes that Chinese citizens are rapidly waking up and establishing a foundation for the future. This is, he said, the Information Age – anything can happen! We should no longer have dialogue with dictators but instead with human people and invoked the means of technology by which to achieve this. The reason I can sit with you today, he said, ‘is proof that everything you have done is bearing fruit, stick together, persevere and together anything can happen. The regime is losing moral legitimacy, so let’s work together to end dictatorship so we can have global democracy”.

Summing up the evening, Lord Alton noted that one day Chen Guacheng will be regarded as a national hero in his own country, for having stood up for human rights, in particular those of women and children.

In terms of what we in the UK should do, Lord Alton stressed that the UK have aided and abetted this inhumane one-child policy via the UNFPA who have channelled funds from the DFID into Chinese communist policy and agencies. China is a great country home to great people, but the one-child policy violates most basic human rights. This is a war against women and girls, 1,468 abortions the equivalent of a Tianeman Square massacre, take place every hour in China, most of whom are girls. China’s birth rate is currently 100 girls for every 137 boys, which is fuelling human trafficking and slavery in Asia. In addition China faces an aging population with insufficient young people to support them, an anomaly expected to hit in twenty years time.

Various groups need to hold screenings of the film Itsagirlmovie. We also need to defund UNFPA and the IPPF. We need to be inspired and make sure Chen’s story is known, Lord Alton emphasised that each of us must heed Chen’s words and actions and pray for an end to abortion and gendercide.

At the end of the evening, in the Q&A session, Chen told of how he had learnt only that morning that Chinese officials had expressed frustration that they had not beaten him to death when they had the chance. In response to the fact that no government official had agreed to meet him he defiantly repeated “UK government officials are scared of Chinese officials’ anger – I am not scared of Chinese officials!”. He told of how one of his family members is in hospital with appendicitis and is not being allowed to be properly treated and hoped how anyone who cared about issues of justice and conscience would help his family and anyone who was faced with similar persecution. This cowardly bullying, brutalising, intimidation and threats to his friends and family must stop.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to speak to Chen and his wife and thank them for their witness, courage and bravery and to assure them that there were many in the UK who were praying for them and who would do all we could to help the plight of the Chinese citizen.

Here is a man who has been beaten, tortured and imprisoned and whose family is still severely suffering as a result of his courage and advocacy of the poor, women, children and most vulnerable in society. Here’s his response when I told him that as the mother of four girls, I am heavily emotionally invested in the issue of gendercide. This is the power of the human spirit, undaunted, uncrushed, full of joy, optimism and hope. “Four girls, that’s so wonderful, so incredible” he laughed, before adding “not in China, but the day will come”.