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U.S. Congress hears testimonies on China
Donna S. Ware
Pro-Democracy student leader and Tiananmen survivor, Wuer Kai Xi, has been waiting 15 years for justice. In 1989, he was among those advocating more freedom in China: freedom of speech, of press, of association, of religion to name a few. Instead, after six weeks of protests on Tiananmen Square, he found himself among those unarmed citizens facing the tanks and the heavy machine guns of the People’s Liberation Army in a bloody battle that left untold numbers dead. It was a battle that China’s Communist regime would like the world to forget. It was a battle that China’s citizenry were told never happened.
One month after the incident, it was Wuer Kai Xi’s testimony before the U.S. Congress that helped to dispel the notion that the massacre never really happened. Fifteen years later, Wuer Kai Xi was again before Congress. This time he was waiting to share his thoughts on the current state of human rights in China.
What has changed? According to Wuer and others testified before the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus Briefing last week – not much.
The briefing, which was chaired by Representative Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL) and Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), included Tom Lantos (D-CA) who chairs the caucus, a bi-partisan organization of nearly 200 House members that identifies and works to alleviate human rights abuses in the world.
The caucus convened to hear testimony from Elizabeth Dugan, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Joe Donovan, Director of the State Department’s Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs; a panel representing groups that are persecuted in China, including Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and Tibetans; Amnesty International; Radio Free Asia; and Democracy Student Movement Leader, Wuer Kai Xi.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Dugan remarked that just last week the mothers of victims of the Tiananmen crackdown were put under arrest for trying to seek accountability and justice. She painted a picture of a China that has tried to erase all traces of the June 4th massacre from the minds and hearts of its citizenry, even to the point of making the words “June 4th” taboo.
Dugan said that the younger generations don’t know what happened on Tiananmen Square because all references have been removed from history books and teachers are forbidden to mention the event. She reported that 2,000 survivors languish in prisons for an event that purportedly never happened and those released from prison live a life under surveillance, unable to find employment.
Dugan concluded her remarks by saying that China needs to reconsider Tiananmen and give its citizenry the basic human rights of free speech, assembly, rule of law, faith, and fair trial. She outlined the efforts the present administration has made in the last year to affect change in the human rights situation in China such as helping to reform the judicial system, encouraging respect of religious freedom, and attempting to publicly and privately highlight the need for human rights improvements. Finally, Dugan said that “we will not witness the full flowering of our Chinese-American relations” until the human rights situation improves.
In testimony after testimony, panelists gave examples of extreme human rights abuses, demonstrating that not only have human rights not improved in China in the last 15 years, but that the situation seems to be deteriorating. Panelists described a Chinese Communist regime that appears to be in the process of systematically criminalizing culture and belief and a China where saying a taboo word, listening to a radio station, surfing the Internet, or even singing a song can get you arrested or even killed.
In his statement, Wuer Kai Xi remarked that “China is essentially unchanged. [it is] a corrupt state ruled by dictators.” He further said that Communist party rule is “based on blood, not the ballot.” Wuer expressed his hope that what happened 15 years ago will not be forgotten “in the name of economic expediency” and that China will take this opportunity of the 15 anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown to face the truth.
Representative Woolsey turned the inquiry to Falun Gong, calling the issues facing those who practice it in China her ”litmus test” for whether the human rights situation in China is improving. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that was introduced in China 12 years ago and is practiced in 60 countries around the world. Former Chinese Communist Party Secretary Jiang Zemin banned Falun Gong in July, 1999. According to the group’s information center, since then, more than 900 practitioners have been tortured to death in police custody.
Representative Kirk asked about the condition of American Falun Gong practitioner, Charles Li, who is imprisoned in China. State Department representative Dugan responded that Li’s detention was based on “shaky grounds.” Kirk demanded to know his physical condition, the conditions under which he is being held, and whether he is getting regular consular visits. He remarked that he’d like to see a breakthrough in media coverage of cases such as Charles Li’s and jailed Uyghur, Rebiya Kadeer.
Erkin Alptekin, president of the World Uyghur Association, expressed his concerns about the future for Uyghurs, pointing to China’s media campaign that has branded them as “terrorists and threats to the West.”
Alptekin admitted that some of his countrymen have lost hope and that “hopelessness leads to violence.”
Erping Zhang, spokesperson for Falun Gong, said that after nearly five years of brutal persecution, the group is seeking justice through legal channels. According to Zhang, he attended the First White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, where he handed information about the persecution and the pending worldwide lawsuits against Jiang Zemin directly to U.S. President George Bush.
Kirk concluded his remarks by saying that it is incumbent upon us to create a “crescendo of human rights in China before the Olympics” because it will be difficult for the Chinese government to suppress demonstrations during the Olympics and that would be damaging to China’s image.
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