Seminar on China's Human Rights and Religious Freedom in Houston

ChinaAid Editor’s Note: On the afternoon of March 3, 2013, ChinaAid founder and president Pastor Bob Fu was invited to speak at the “Seminar on China’s Human Rights and Religious Freedom” in Houston, Texas. Senior Taiwanese journalist and human rights activist Dr. Yang Xianhong gave the keynote address. Sinologists Dr. Jacques deLisle from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Hans Stockton from St. Thomas College also spoke.

Photo: From left to right Dr. Yang, Dr. deLisle, Dr. Hans and Rev. Fu

The following is the Remark of Dr. Yang Xianhong:
Today, we are discussing religious freedom in China. As Mr. Shan and Professor DeLisle have talked about I would like to extend the concern to how it affects the relation between Taiwan and China. Therefore, my topic today is “From price to value, the possible future development between Taiwan and China relationship.”

Before I present the main theme today, I would like to mention the evolution of Taiwan in the 1980’s and two famous histories first to remind us how things were changed when the value of human rights was put on the highest place inside our hearts, and most people in the world fought the fights legitimately with the mind of positive togetherness.

China has become a strong economical entity by following the footstep of Taiwan, producing what Taiwan used to produce. However, in religious freedom and human rights, It is still way behind. Many people talked about “Taiwan Experience” as a good example for developing countries to follow. This should not be limited to the economy but also the political and judicial system. Taiwan is a free country now, but this was achieved by the people tirelessly fighting for their freedom back in the 1980’s.

Taiwan used to be like China. For about 40 years Taiwan was ruled under martial law that was eventually lifted in 1987. There was persecution of the people based on ridiculous reasons long before Mei Li Dao (or Kaohsiung) Incident in 1979. There was the “White Terror” on political dissidents. Less publicized was the labeling of certain branches of Tao’ism as cults and imprisonment of the followers. Other than harvesting of the organs for transplantation business purposes, that was basically not different from how Falun Gong practitioners are treated in China these days. Through the effort of many freedom fighters, the government could no longer stop the tide of democratization. The Martial Law was terminated and Taiwanese people were able to enjoy both political and religious freedom nowadays.

There were the story of Mandela and South Africa, and the story of Aung San Suu Kye and Burma.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was arrested On 5 August 1962, he was charged with inciting workers to strike and leaving the country without permission. While Mandela was imprisoned, At the subsequent Rivonia Trial, Mandela and the comrades were charged by the chief prosecutor with four charges of sabotage and conspiring to violently overthrow the government, facing the death penalty. The trial gained international attention, with global calls for the release of the accused; the United Nations voted to cancel the trial. South Africa’s government ignored all calls for clemency, and on 12 June 1964, found Mandela and two of his co-accused guilty on all four charges, but sentenced them to life imprisonment rather than death. Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, where he remained for the next 18 of his 27 years in prison. On the island, prisoners were segregated by race, with black prisoners receiving the fewest rations. Political prisoners were kept separate from ordinary criminals and received fewer privileges. Mandela described once, as a D-group prisoner (the lowest classification), he was allowed one visitor and one letter every six months. Letters, when they came, were often delayed for long periods and made unreadable by the prison censors. In 1989, South Africa reached a crossroads when the president Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk. On 2 February 1990, President F. W. de Klerk reversed the ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations, and announced that Mandela would shortly be released from prison. Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl on 11 February 1990.

During the days of Mandela in prison 27 years, most people in the world had seen South Africa as a country of garbage because of the policy of apartheid. After the release, the same state, changed into a country of shining diamonds, in the eyes of the same people.

The recent story of Aung San Suu Kyi has proved again the same situation change. She had been detained under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 of the 21 years from 20 July 1989 until her release on 13 November 2010, becoming one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners. During which time she was prevented from meeting her party supporters and international visitors, but was occasionally allowed visits from foreign diplomats as well as from her personal physician. The media were also prevented from visiting Suu Kyi, as occurred in 1998 when journalist Maurizio Giuliano, after photographing her, was stopped by customs officials who then confiscated all his films, tapes and some notes. On several occasions during Suu Kyi’s house arrest, she had periods of poor health and as a result was hospitalized.

The Burmese government detained and kept Suu Kyi imprisoned because it viewed her as someone “likely to undermine the community peace and stability” of the country .Under the same accusation of “against the dangers of those desiring to cause subversive” ,there were more than 2,000 other political prisoners in the country while Suu Kyi was under house arrest.

With the detention of Suu Kyi , the government of Burma also tied itself up, the country had no way to go globally. After her release, the state certainly set itself free in every angle in the world. It has been experiencing a miraculous change from garbage to solid gold.

The key words of accusation had been used by the rulers in Taiwan and these two cases, inciting, sabotage and conspiring to violently overthrow the state, undermining the community peace and stability, the dangers of desiring to cause subversive, Nowadays, those descriptions have appeared in the political sentences in China frequently. In the past decade, Taiwanese people have visited China quite often, the Feelings, to witness how the communist China did the suppression and to gag free speech, were so uneasy inside their minds. But most of the Taiwanese merchants in China said very little to express themselves. Only when they came back to Taiwan could they complain to their friends of the nightmare reminiscent of their experience during the martial law era in Taiwan. The political sentence of Liu Xiaobo(劉曉波) was a turning point, especially when he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. The communist China tyrannically refused the world recognition to the writer who had been in jail for 4 of 11 years sentence with the charge of inciting to overthrow the state power, while the so-called evidence was a draft of new constitution. Taiwanese people felt very hard to endure the ridiculous sentence, Most media in Taiwan urged President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to speak out for the freedom of Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), and Ma did.

Last year, the legendary escape of Chen Guangcheng(陳光誠)from communist house arrest was so amazing to Taiwanese. After firm and persistent visits by concerned Chinese countrywide netizens, Chen Guangcheng(陳光誠) finally found the way to get rid of residential surveillance and, through a dramatic process, the family gained official passports issued by the Chinese authority, leaving Beijing for New York through formal channels, not with the status of political refugees. When Chen Guangcheng(陳光誠) was imprisoned for 4 years and 3 months with the charges of disturbing road traffic and damaging the public property, Taiwanese people paid attention to this countryside bare-footed blind lawyer who was helping village women threatened by the “one birth policy”, Time magazine has honored him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He was also awarded the famous “Philippines Nobel prize” Magsaysay Award for his contributions to human rights. Chen Guangcheng’s (陳光誠) wife Yuan Weijing(袁偉靜) had written a letter to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in 2011, to warn him that Taiwan must deal with China carefully, because the regime is not at all trustable according to their experience in the past.

This year, the administration of Taiwan expressed the idea that dialogue between Taiwan and China should extend beyond economic and trade issues to encompass human rights and the rules of law as well. “Taiwan’s ultimate goal is to maintain peace in East Asia and to allow people on both sides of Taiwan Strait to pursue the values of freedom and democracy,” President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said on January 23 at a ceremony in Taipei marking 2013 World Freedom Day. Ma said that since he took office in 2008, dialogue between Taiwan and China has focused on trade and cultural issues, but he expressed hope that the issues of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rules of law could be taken up in the near future.

The opposition party DPP quickly announced a statement to welcome the new policy to deal with China. But the statement also challenged President Ma, “Please do not talk all the talk without action.” DPP suggested to amend or to legislate some laws to meet the goal of human rights protection concerning political prisoners in China. In fact, the congress of Taiwan just passed a motion entitled “Caring the P.O.C. (prisoners of conscience) in China” on December 11, 2012, the day after 2012 World Human Rights Day. The motion was passed without any objection in Legislative Yuan (the name of the congress of Taiwan). It was proposed by opposition party lawmakers and Taiwan Association for China Human Rights (TACHR), a non -governmental organization that promotes equal protection of human rights in China and in Taiwan, but was also supported by the majority ruling party members. The motion also has a long appendix of 4033 names of political prisoners in China. It means that the list of the 4033 names is now an official parliament record of Taiwan. In the future, Taiwan administration must spend some efforts on those Chinese political prisoners to show their respects to the decision of the congress.

The December 11, 2012 extemporaneous motion has blazed a trail in the history of Taiwanese human rights movement. It gave a strong emphasis at the beginning: ”In view of the fact that human rights are not only universal values but also the core value of the founding of our nation, which transcend national boundaries, gender, race, color, religious belief and organization, it is our country’s unshirkable responsibility to promote the development of democracy, freedom and the rule of law in China as well as to protect basic human rights of the people in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.” The motion also declared that, “After our country ratified the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and the [International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights] (hereinafter referred to as the Two Conventions) in May 2009, the [Act to Implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights] was passed, and came into force on December 10 2009 International Human Rights Day.”

“According to the provision of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, our country should concern about prisoners of conscience, including democracy activists, human rights activists, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan, etc. who are imprisoned in labor camps, prisons, or detention centers by Chinese government due to political, religious, or belief reasons, and should enact laws and regulations to rescue and provide assistance to them, so as to comply with the provisions of the Two Conventions and follow the international trend. ”

It was the very first time in Taiwan a governmental document applied the terminology to specify what kinds of people were taken into consideration in the motion, It said that, “The term [prisoner of conscience (POC)] originated from Amnesty International, which is defined as [people who have been jailed because of their political, religious or other conscientiously-held beliefs, ethnic origin, gender, color, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status, provided that they have neither used nor advocated violence.] It is an undeniable fact in international practice that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and freedom of religion of prison of conscience defined by Amnesty International are protected by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. For years, Amnesty International has regarded Chinese democracy activists, human rights activists, rights lawyers, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan, journalists and others who are detained by the Chinese government due to political, religious and belief reasons, but they do not violate any international offenses as prisoner of conscience, and has been launching a global campaign to rescue them. In the U.S. congressional hearing on Sino-US Relations held in January 2011, Chinese human rights activist Yang Jian-li (楊建利) testified that China is currently the top country that imprisons prisoners of conscience most.”

The motion further more took actions on the most sensitive issues, “ Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetans are among the prisoners of conscience that are imprisoned in China and subjected to most serious persecution. In the human rights report submitted by Professor Manfred Nowak, former Special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, he pointed out that Falun Gong practitioners accounted for two-thirds of the torture cases happened in China in 2006. He also included the atrocities of selling organs harvested from living Falun Gong practitioners in China in his reports (2007-2010). In the 2011 annual human rights report by the U.S. State Department and the annual report by the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) in 2012 have also published Chinese regime’s harvesting organs from living Falun Gong practitioners and inmates on death row for organ trafficking. The atrocities are indeed appalling and are crimes against humanity. Also, the scale of Tibetan who have been arrested and persecuted by the Chinese regime has extended to all sectors. In addition to lamas, monks and nuns, it has extended to writers, singers and other artists. Many famous singers and writers have been arrested. Due to the escalation of the Chinese regime’s persecution, Tibetans have been forced to use self-immolation to protest against the atrocities, which has shocked the entire world. However, because the Chinese regime has censored information strictly, it is difficult for outside world to accurately verify the exact number of victims. It is generally believed that the number of prisoners of con science from the above-mentioned two persecuted groups is far underestimated.”

It was also written in the motion to remind the government officers their obligations, it said that “[Act to Implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights] was passed and enacted 10 December 2009. In accordance with the provision of Article 2 of the Act, the human rights protection provisions in the Two Conventions have the same legal effects as those of domestic laws. Therefore, Article 18 regarding the protection of the rights of prisoners of conscience in “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” has the same legal effects as those of domestic laws. The government should comply with it and attach much importance to it. In particular, the government should not turn a blind eye to the prisoners of conscience whose lives are facing life danger while being tortured in the persecution.”

The motion ended with a sense of responsibility, and promised a goal clearly, It said that, “In order to demonstrate that our country complies with human rights provisions of the Two Conventions and implements the core value of human rights upon which our nation is founded, our government should seriously concern about all of the prisoners of conscience on the list, who are imprisoned and deprived of fundamental human rights, including life, body, property, and freedom, and should enact laws to provide necessary rescue and assistance”.

The total number of the prisoners of conscience on the list was 4033. It was a statistics only until the day the motion passed. The breakdown is Chinese democracy activists and human rights activists 151, rights lawyers 31, Falun Gong practitioners 1854, Tibetan and others 1997.

Since 2010, After Liu Xiaobo(劉曉波)had been awarded the Nobel prize, many people hoped, if Mandela could have said something to Chinese government for the release of Liu Xiaobo(劉曉波), but Mandela did not. Though Aung San Suu Kyi has made a videotape of her concerns to all prisoners of conscience in 2010, but since then she never said any words for the release of. Liu Xiaobo(劉曉波).Why do I mention Mandela and Aung San Suu Kye at the opening? it is only because we still expect their voices wholeheartedly.

Mandela was visited several times by delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross, while at Robben Island and later at Pollsmoor prison. Mandela once had said about people visited him in the jail: “to me personally, and those who shared the experience of being political prisoners, the Red Cross was a beacon of humanity within the dark inhumane world of political imprisonment.” Now we hope Mandela and Aung San Suu Kye will play the role of Red Cross, as a beacon of humanity not only for Liu Xiaobo(劉曉波), but also for those who are still within the dark inhuman corners of Chinese political imprisonment.

This is a very special occasion which brings all of us together to see light at the end of the tunnel after struggling with the problem of freedom suppression in China for many years. We may say now is the beginning of the end that finally we made a great start in Taiwan, From now on, when Taiwan talks to China, business and price are no longer the only issues on the negotiation table, human rights and values gradually will be the argument in focus. We are quite fortunate having the chance to stand-in-a-circle-and-watch (圍觀) the most difficult part to be conquered between two sides. I like to say, not only the facts we discuss today will be part of the history, the meeting itself and all participants here are already in the historical moment.

Taiwan Association for China Human Rights(In short: TACHR),is a non-governmental organization in Taiwan. Founded on 14th May, 2011 in Taipei by a senior media journalist and program host of Radio Taiwan International, Yang, Sen Hong. This association’s goal is to urge the government of Republic of China to make human rights become the negotiation issues between ROC and PRC, and also pay attention to the current situation of human rights in People’s Republic of China. To lobby the congress of ROC to build a “Platform for Cross Strait Human Rights Talk” in the law system. They also push the government of ROC to legislate “Law of Political Refugees” or “Law of Political Asylum” as soon as possible, to aid the Prisoners of Conscience and Dissidents who are persecuted by the PRC’s government.

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