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”.

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What’s the plan, Stan?

So, I said I’d do one final post, before a break of a few weeks, and here it is. As will become obvious I do want comments to continue to pour in as I think that this could actually prove very constructive.

Let’s be honest. There is no coherent pro-life movement in the UK. I have spent hours pouring over pro-choice literature, academic studies, political analysis, I follow them like a hawk on social media and I have to concede they are expert operators with cogent strategies, smooth PR machines who are able to drive headlines and influence public opinion. I know one or two people who have attended their meetings incognito. I’ve thought about doing the same, with the addition of a black wig and my glasses. What I have been told is that the pro-choice lobby are friendly, very well-organised and above all democratic, transparent and accountable.

What do we have to counter that? A disparate bunch of well-meaning squabblers, and I admit in some respects I may not have helped, but it pains me beyond belief to see the mess our side are in; whilst we squabble, bicker and fight, countless die.

I know all the arguments about Catholic teaching, about Christian teaching and so on and so forth, there is a time and a place to evangelise and I don’t simply mean in Church, but trying to base legislation upon Biblical, Scriptural or Magisterial Authority has not worked since before the Enlightenment. I think we have to draw an important distinction between Christian evangelisation and attempting to achieve our goals. Of course the two are inexorably linked and should complement and support each other, but campaigning for the dignity of the unborn and sick and elderly does not necessitate or require theology or biblical exegesis. We can draw on that to other Christians or in the course of general apologetics, but appealing to God, whilst trying to convince an atheist as to the horror of abortion, or why it is not right to put to death terminally ill or elderly people, is simply not going to wash.

It seems to me we have two options:

Option one

We all agree that I am a cheeky bumptious upstart who has no business sticking her opinionated nose into pro-life politics. If I want to do something I can rattle some collecting tins in Church, attend coffee mornings, bake cakes for pro-life charity sales, maybe do a bit of typing for the Pro-Life times or some such, but generally get back to my life of witness by continuing to have as many babies as I can until my uterus falls out.

In the meantime, the internecine squabbling continues, positions are more firmly entrenched than ever before, pro-life groups carry on doing what they’ve always done, groups are as polarised as ever before, John Smeaton retires in ten years time and passes on the family firm to his son, whilst LIFE carry on doing what they do. Both groups do some things well, but no real progress is made, things just tick on as before, it’s all about the damage limitation.

In the meantime, Dorries pushes for the 20 week reduction and fails miserably, much to the cheers of her detractors. Bouyed up by Nadine’s failure, the pro-choice lobby, decide to push on with their agenda, the requirement for the second doctor’s signature is removed, pro-life groups are no longer allowed to present in schools and are barred from carrying out any pregnancy counselling. Marie Stopes and BPAS build more and more clinics, abortion numbers go up, more sex education is thought to be the solution, more condoms and morning after pills are given out and so the cycle continues. Who knows, they may challenge for an overturning of the abortion pill to be administered in a clinic and will probably start hawking mobile abortion services, or even dial-an-abortion whereby a woman can have her consultation over the phone and the pill delivered by courier.

In short, doom and death.

Option 2

How about a meeting? (I won’t come, I promise, I’ll be too busy skulking or giving birth or something, besides I don’t want to be lynched by anyone). I know this seems incredible, I know we aren’t going to get x, y and z to actually sit down together in a room and begin to talk, dear me no, that could never happen could it, because of things that happened 20 years ago.

How about a team of professional mediators and ALL the major pro-life players and when I say ALL, I mean ALL? Not just representatives from SPUC, LIFE, Right-to-Life, but everyone, from people like Peter Saunders, to John Smeaton, Jack Scarisbrick, to Phyllis Bowman, Josephine Quintavelle, Ed Rennie, heck even Lord Alton, EVERYONE, lets get them all together to sit down, agree common goals and talk, to see where we can all go from here.

What I would love to see is a consolidation of all groups, – one huge group with different arms and focuses, say a euthanasia arm, an education arm, an outreach arm, a political arm, a research arm and so on and so forth. Consolidation has to be the name of the game in this day and age. It’s a clunky analogy but look at the airline industry. All the little airlines could not survive single handedly, routes were being duplicated, losses were being made and so we’ve seen some mergers in order to ensure survival. I know that the pro-life movement is not a business, but surely if we had one movement, one that was democratic, transparent and accountable, then certainly Catholics would know to whom to donate in good faith, as would Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, people of all faiths and none. We seem to have so much duplication and wastage and yet no coherent strategy.

I know there are so many thorny issues to be thought through, I know there are many competing egos, but surely with professional mediators and then with the help of management consultants (sorry, but they would need to be a prerequisite) we could take stock of the resources and expertise available, consolidate and move forward? I know there are issues such as LIFE only do non-directive counselling and really Catholics must tell people the truth that abortion is the killing of a baby and morally wrong, but surely there has to be areas of consensus and commonality?

I really don’t think we can carry on as we are, it’s 2012, it’s time to finally sort this mess out, and getting everyone together in a room seems a good place to start. If the Irish peace process can manage to get Gerry Adams and David Trimble around the table, then there’s hope for all of us.

Which brings me to something that I’ve always wanted to do. One of those poll jobbies. Over to you. What do you think? Maybe the first thing we can organise is that long overdue rally?