The New York Times: U.N. Investigates ‘Intimidation’ of Activist at Human Rights Council

Ti-Anna Wang, the daughter of Wang Bingzhang, a jailed democracy advocate.
Courtesy of Rachel Soloman,
UN Watch

Ti-Anna Wang, the daughter
of Wang Bingzhang, a jailed
democracy activist.

The New York Times

By Didi Kirsten Tatlow

The United Nations is investigating “an act of intimidation” against Ti-Anna Wang, the daughter of the imprisoned Chinese democracy advocate Wang Bingzhang, during a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva this week, a spokesman said.

According to Ms. Wang, in a report corroborated by a United Nations spokesman, Rolando Gómez, a Chinese member of a nongovernmental organization first openly, then stealthily, photographed her and the screen of her laptop computer during hearings on Wednesday on adopting China’s human rights report, known as the Universal Periodic Review.

Ms. Wang said the man was a member of the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture, a Beijing-based group set up in 2004 that is believed to have close links to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. He was removed from the meeting by United Nations security guards but returned on Thursday, according to N.G.O. representatives. Mr. Gómez confirmed that the man was accredited to participate in the meeting but declined to give his name.

The Chinese Mission to the United Nations in Geneva did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. A man who answered the telephone at the Chinese Mission to the United Nations in New York declined to comment, saying he was not qualified but would not direct the call to a person who could comment.

The man was seen photographing Ms. Wang by a United Nations employee. He was then escorted from the room by security guards, and the images were deleted. Such photography is not permitted in the room, Mr. Gómez said.

N.G.O. representatives have said there is a pattern of governments with poor human rights records harassing their critics at the United Nations.

“An incident occurred yesterday involving photographing at close range,” Mr. Gómez said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “It was perceived as an act of intimidation by the U.N. officials who witnessed it.”

“The incident is currently being investigated,” he added. “One gentleman was photographing one lady, the target. Any such acts of intimidation or harassment are taken very seriously by the U.N. Human Rights Council.”

In an email, Ms. Wang described the incident like this:

I was sitting at a desk using my computer in the last row of the room where the council was in session. It was right next to the N.G.O. speakers desk. The room was waiting for the session on China’s adoption of the UPR [Universal Periodic Review] to start. It must have been around 5:20 p.m.

Several Chinese people from a Chinese N.G.O. were sitting directly behind. Unbeknownst to me, one of the Chinese men used a computer tablet to take unauthorized photographs of me. A U.N. Secretariat staff member saw what was happening and asked him to stop, as you are not supposed to take photographs in the room at all.

A few minutes later, I turned around to make sure that the man had stopped, but I found him continuing to photograph me! He was hiding the tablet inside his suit but the camera part was clearly sticking out, pointing at me. I went to talk to the staff who had previously reprimanded him and a security guard inside the room.

Security escorted out the man out of room, inspected the photographs, and confirmed that there were several photographs of me, my computer screen, and my personal belongings. According the security guards, the other pictures were of the room and no other individuals were targeted. The security guard then ordered the gentleman to delete the photos in front of him. The Chinese man was from the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture.

I obviously feel violated and repulsed, but I am more angry that a U.N. accredited so-called N.G.O. would engage in espionage. Looking back, I really regret not making a scene to publicly embarrass them right there and then, and bring attention to the existence and behavior of these “N.G.O.s”.

Multiple attempts to reach the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture by telephone and email failed.

The incident came amid a dramatic few days surrounding the adoption of China’s report, a normally pro forma event that was suspended on Wednesday after the Chinese delegation tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent Ms. Wang, 24, from speaking about her father, who is serving a life sentence in China.

She said that Mr. Wang was kidnapped in Vietnam in 2002 after trying to set up an opposition political party in China, taken to China by unknown people and charged with “offenses of espionage” and the “conduct of terrorism.” Her father, a medical doctor who was born in China, had lived in North America for many years. Ms. Wang was raised in Canada.

Adding to the fraught atmosphere, China, which is a member of the 47-nation Human Rights Council and therefore obliged to uphold the highest standards in human rights, according to the United Nations mandate, argued against observing a minute of silence in the council proposed by N.G.O. representatives in memory of Cao Shunli. Ms. Cao, 53, a Chinese rights advocate, died in custody on March 14 after six months in detention following her attempts to promote public participation in compiling China’s rights report.

Ms. Cao was detained last September on her way to Geneva for training in United Nations human rights procedures.

Her lawyers and relatives have said her death from tuberculosis and other ailments was the result of medical neglect in detention. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that she received adequate medical treatment and that her human rights were respected.
The Human Rights Council adopted China’s report late Thursday, but only after a stand-up protest by “between 50 and 100″ representatives of rights groups who held photographs and drawings of Ms. Cao, said Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based civil society group that monitors the United Nations. Mr. Neuer said the protest took the place of the minute of silence they had requested the day before.

“It was very dramatic, very emotional for us, because essentially the human rights community invited her here, and then she was killed for it,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing did not respond to faxed questions requesting comment.

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