On January 18, Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the House Human Rights Subcommittee and Executive Committee Member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) and Rep. Frank Wolf, Co-Chair of the TLHRC, held a press conference to heighten attention to China’s human rights concerns. The conference was just one of many human rights events planned to coincide with the arrival of Chinese Premier Hu Jintao to Washington. Harry Wu, Laogai Research Foundation’s Executive Director and Laogai survivor, joined a panel of outspoken Chinese human rights activists, family members of dissidents, and Representatives Smith and Wolf in calling for President Obama to speak out against China’s human rights abuses- not only in private discussions with Hu, but also to the public media and international community.
In his remarks, Mr. Wu drew attention to the atrocities resulting from China’s One-Child Policy, noting that 22% of the world’s population is not free to make their own reproductive decisions. This cry was echoed by fellow panelists and defenders of women’s rights, Reggie Littlejohn, President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers and Chai Ling, President of All Girls Allowed, who stressed that forced abortion and forced sterilization are “crimes against humanity.” Mr. Wu also drew parallels between the gulags of the Holocaust and China’s Laogai, or forced labor camps, which still exist today, and which, despite international regulations, continue to find ways to export prisoner-made goods. He cited as evidence, the recent discovery that a Canadian company, Inland Screw Piling, had imported Laogai-made products.
Each of the attendees at Tuesday’s press conference passionately urged for the release of China’s many political dissidents, particularly Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who’s wife, Geng He, was present to share her family’s distress. She, along with the children of Wang Bingzhang, the founder of two pro-democracy movements who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2003, appealed to Mr. Obama not only as President, but as a father, asking him to imagine the pain that their family member’s imprisonment has caused and urging him to press for their release. Rebiya Kadeer, former political prisoner and President of World Uyghur Congress, also called for an end to the detainment and persecution of the family members of political prisoners; her two sons remain imprisoned in China as retaliation for her own outspokenness on China’s repressive actions.
Harry Wu echoed these pleas, but pointed out that American companies have directly facilitated the Chinese Public Security Bureau’s efforts to censor the Internet and hunt down dissidents. He noted that companies like Cisco have, on one hand, claimed to support human rights through its sponsorship of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, while on the other hand signing business contracts that have enabled the implementation of China’s “Great Firewall.” Without this American technology, he argued, China would not have been able to so effectively track down “dissidents” like Liu Xiaobo. Mr. Wu closed with the question, why is it that during the Cold War, sharing of technology with the Soviet Union would have been out of the question, while in our current relations with China, American companies are only too willing to do business?
Other speakers included Ngawang Sangdrol, a Tibetan first imprisoned at the age of 13 for her peaceful advocacy of an independent Tibet and Bob Fu, President of China Aid Association an former political prisoner.