Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Prisoner of the Day No. 7

Ms. Ying Dai [a former prisoner], is a Falun Gong practitioner who survived Chinese labour camps and now lives in Norway after being granted refugee status by the UN. [She] confirmed the blood testing of Falun Gong practitioners [in order to harvest their organs]. She also told of the persecution she endured in China together with other practitioners.

"For five years, I was arrested, I was incarcerated. We were severely beaten. But we were no animals and we committed no crime."

"The degree of persecution is beyond what people in the West can imagine", she told the audience.

Mr. Erping Zhang, the director for the Association for Asian Research, a New York-based organization, presented an overview of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that includes meditation, and of its persecution by the Chinese communist regime.

The practice, first made public in China in 1992, was originally endorsed by the government for its ability to improve health and morale, but it fell out of favour after the officially atheist regime found it had attracted more adherents than there were members in the Chinese Communist Party.

Zhang emphasized that Falun Gong practitioners have been vilified by the Chinese media, which are under the control of the ruling communist party in China. The media have treated Falun Gong worse than criminals, Zhang said, and this has helped substantiate the persecution.

Source: Epoch Times

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Prisoner of the Day No. 6

Beijing bookstore owner and House Church leader Mr. Shi Weihan, has been suffering a deterioration in health since his imprisonment four months ago.

China Aid Association (CAA) says that poor prison conditions and refusal of diabetes medication have contributed to Shi’s lack of health. Shi has lost more than 10 kg in body weight amidst the constant physical and psychological torture employed by prison officials.

CAA says that recently Shi was coerced to sign and recognize a confession convicting him of “engaging in the printing and distribution of a large number of illegal publications.”

The charges stem from Shi’s printing of Bibles and Christian literature which were sold at his Beijing Christian bookstore, but were deemed “illegal” by Beijing authorities because the books were not printed by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Church.

Source: Radio Free China

Friday, August 15, 2008

Prisoner of the Day No. 5

He Depu is a brave man.

The jailed Chinese dissident has sent a letter to International Olympic Committee head Jacques Rogge, telling him prisons have worsened and urging him to go see for himself, a rights group said Thursday. He Depu, a veteran activist serving an eight-year sentence, told Rogge that political prisoners were particularly worse off, despite hopes the Olympics would be a catalyst for change, New York-based Human Rights in China said.

"The Olympics are fast approaching," said the letter, written in Block 17 of Beijing's No. 2 Prison in April. "But the limitations placed on us as political prisoners in Beijing have not only not lessened, but rather have increased."

Political prisoners are not allowed to call or meet with their families, obtain a reduced sentence or participate in recreational activities organised by the prison, he wrote. But conditions have deteriorated for all types of prisoners, political and criminal alike, he said -- food has gotten steadily worse while medical care is inadequate, with sometimes fatal results.

"For many years, there have been two numbers that have been particularly high: the first is the number of sick prisoners, the second is the extremely high number of deaths...I hope that when it is convenient, you can come just once to the Beijing No. 2 Prison to see what it is like for the prisoners living here."the letter said.

He has been a democracy activist since the late 1970s, and was sentenced to eight years in jail in November 2003 after signing an open letter calling for political reform. He has repeatedly suffered abuse while in detention leading to permanent injuries, according to Human Rights in China.

Sources: AFP
Human Rights Watch

Prisoner of the Day No. 4

Ni Yulan, a 47-year-old lawyer, has spent a decade defending the rights of forcibly evicted residents. Ni's trial was scheduled to take place in Beijing on August 4, four days before the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"Ni Yulan is a courageous activist whose only crime has been to defend her rights and the rights of victims of forced evictions in Beijing," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "To try her on the eve of the Games is an extraordinary insult to those who lost their homes to the Beijing Olympics and shows contempt for human rights concerns raised by the international community."

Hundreds of thousands of residents have been evicted and their homes demolished in the course of Bejiing's Olympic makeover. These evictions rarely respected due process or the requirements under Chinese law for consultation or compensation. In some cases, residents were violently evicted by thugs and wrecking crews hired by the construction companies clearing sites for new buildings (for background, see Human Rights Watch's report, "Demolished: Forced Evictions and the Tenants' Rights Movement in China."

On April 15, 2008, without warning, more than a dozen workers and police knocked down the wall surrounding Ni's house in Qianzheng hutong, in the central Xicheng district of Beijing. According to her husband, Dong Jiqin, when Ni tried to protect her home, she was hit on head with a brick and dragged to the ground by one of the demolition workers. Police detained Ni and accused her of assaulting a demolition worker. According to information from China Human Rights Defender (CHRD), a Chinese human rights monitoring group, police at the Xinjiekou Police Station beat Ni until she lost consciousness. They also confiscated her crutches, without which she has extreme difficulty standing. On April 29, the Beijing Public Security Bureau of Xicheng district formally arrested her on charges of 'obstructing a public official' (Article 277 of the Criminal Law), a charge that carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Ni's lawyer was allowed to visit her in mid-June in detention and reported that, "She was in a very bad condition. She could hardly walk, she was very, very weak and deathly pale," he told overseas media. On June 30, Ni filed a complaint accusing the police of beating her in custody.

This was not Ni's first brush with the authorities over housing rights. In April 2002, Ni was detained for 75 days after she filmed the destruction of the house of an evicted tenant. While in detention, she was severely beaten, leaving her maimed and in need of crutches to walk. In September 2002, she was sentenced to a year in prison, losing her lawyer's license as a result. Undaunted, she continued to denounce illegal evictions and unfair compensations after her release.

Source: Human Rights Watch
Ni Yulan's Open Letter to Falun Gong

Prisoner of the Day No. 3

Ji Sizun, 58, a self-described grassroots legal activist from Fujian province, was arrested on August 11, 2008. On August 8, Ji had applied to the Deshengmenwai police station in Beijing’s Xicheng District for a permit to hold a protest in one of the city’s three designated “protest zones.” In his application, Ji stated that the protest would call for greater participation of Chinese citizens in political processes, and denounce rampant official corruption and abuses of power. He was arrested after checking back at the police station on the status of his application, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.

Eyewitnesses said Ji entered the police station at around 10:45 a.m. on August 11. At 12:15 p.m., he was escorted out of the building and put into a dark-colored, unmarked Buick by several men who appeared to be plainclothes policemen. Ji managed to make a short call to his family to notify them he had “problems,” but has since disappeared and remains unreachable on his mobile phone.

Public demonstrations critical of the Chinese government routinely reap swift and harsh retribution from state security forces. On July 23, however, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) security director, Liu Shaowu, announced the creation of three protest zones in Beijing parks. He told reporters that: “People or protesters who want to express their personal opinions can go to do so” in line with “common practice in other countries.”

The three protest zones have so far remained empty of demonstrators.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Prisoner of the Day No. 2

For those of you who are just tuning in this week, I am writing a short post every day of the remaining Olympic Games. These posts will feature one prisoner in China. Please pray for them and tell the truth about their plight. For the safety of the dissidents, I am only discussing those who have asked that their stories be made public, or those whose cases are already high-profile. But please remember that these individuals are also emblematic of several hundreds of thousands of other prisoners in similar situations in China right now.

Prominent rights activist Zeng Jinyan is out of contact and feared to have been detained by police before the opening of the Beijing Olympics, a rights group said. All attempts to contact Zeng had failed and it is believed that she "disappeared" from her Beijing home on Aug. 7, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) reported. She has lived under "residential surveillance", or virtual house arrest, for many months and was already prevented by state security police from meeting foreign journalists or speaking to them by telephone. "The control is tightening," Zeng said in a brief e-mail message on July 10.

Zeng’s husband, prominent dissident Hu Jia, was sentenced to three years and four months in prison in April after a court convicted him of subversion. The U.S.-based Dui Hua Foundation said Hu’s arrest "cannot escape being connected to the Olympics". Both Hu and Zeng have spoken out on human rights issues in China and voiced support for the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader.

"As the Olympics open in Beijing, it is believed that Zeng was taken away to ensure that no journalists will have access to her and that she will be unable to speak out about Hu Jia during the Games," a CHRD statement said.

The statement urged U.S. President George W. Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, to ask Chinese President Hu Jintao to free Zeng.

The Asian Pacific Post
Wikipedia article on Zeng
Zeng's Blog (in Chinese)
USA Today article on Zeng

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Prisoner of the Day No. 1

For the week or so, you might might want to tune into the blog with a bit more frequency than usual. For every one of the remaining days in the Olympic Games (there are 10), I will post a quick notification about someone who has recently been arrested by the Chinese government. They include practitioners of religion (even "state-approved"), to political dissidents, to anyone who speaks against anything the government does. The net is spread wider and wider every month. I ask you, dear reader, to do the following to the best of your ability:

1) If you are a Christian, pray for them.
2) Become informed about the state of human rights in this country.
3) Pass on the truth to everyone you know.

Prisoner of the Day No. 1

Pastor Zhang “Bike” Mingxuan, known for traveling across China on a bicycle to evangelize, was arrested by Chinese police just two days before the Olympics began. Pastor Bike was the inspiration for the recent partnership between The Voice of the Martyrs and China Aid Association to create the Olympic Prayer Band. Thanks to Pastor Bike’s inspiration and the commitment of concerned Christians across the United States, more than 800,000 prayer bands have been circulated.

On Aug. 6, Pastor Bike was arrested while trying to deliver medicine to his ailing wife. His wife and another pastor were also arrested. The organization "Voice of the Martyrs" has also reported this week that Chinese officials are opening a full investigation of the Olympic Prayer Bands that were distributed to house church members within China. Despite this increased pressure from Chinese authorities, Chinese Christians continue to ask for prayer and to make their plight known. This was Zhang Mingxuan's 12th arrest.

He has asked for his identity to be revealed to bring continued attention to the persecution of Christians in Communist China.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bearing the Torch

I did not watch the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Summer Games, but the journey of the flame from city to city had held my attention for several months beforehand. Mainly because of the kerfuffle it made coming through Paris in April. Waves of angry protesters came on the scene, some of them attempting to quench the fire in protest of Chinese human rights violations, while the French police distinguished themselves by beating the more feisty and vociferous members of the crowd. (Incidentally, the bloody images that I remember from French television are not to be found anywhere on Google.) Jin Jing, one of the carriers in Paris - admittedly a very brave woman to roll in her wheelchair through a crowd of French protesters -became a national hero in her own country, hailed for protecting the flame against "sabotage" in a foreign country. And Sarkozy apologized.

By the time it reached China, the flame incited mainly positive responses from onlookers. In a spectacular show of human invention and endeavour, the final bearer of the torch was suspended by wires, like Peter Pan, and "ran" around the rim of the enormous stadium, finally lighting the flame, which zipped up to the cauldron, signaling the beginning of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. (Thanks, Youtube.)

Five days before this stunning event, another torchbearer quietly left the world that had both hated him and loved him. On August 3, 2008, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn passed away from heart failure in his home near Moscow. In a fit of curiosity, I researched whatever I could find online about this extraordinary man, and when I decided Wikipedia wasn't satisfying enough, rummaged around my parents' bookshelves for a copy of The Gulag Archipelago. It was so captivating that I couldn't tear myself away to watch anything on television, eventful or no. I was deep in communist Russia, learning the truth about...them. And myself.

This book is certainly a critique of ideas - particularly communism, an ideology which Solzhenitysn believed would inevitably culminate in a violent regime. Good laws and good systems are a necessary part of the human existence, and the choices we make with these are crucial. Dorothy Sayers reminded me just the other day of how "law" works in an imperfect world:

"The more closely the moral code agrees with natural law, the more it makes for freedom in human behavior; the more it departs from the natural law, the more it tends to enslave mankind and to produce the catastrophes called "judgments of God"." (The Mind of the Maker, 9).

But the author of The Gulag Archipelago has a much bigger point to make. His political expose is unique in that he claims that he himself could have been among the perpetrators of evil in his country, given a different twist of fate. That is, the system is evil, and so am I...and so are you. This is so very different from the typical American right-wing response (go find evil and root it out before it gets us), and the typical American left-wing response (there's no such thing as evil). The great Russian writer, a devout Christian, cuts across our party lines to remind us of truth and humility all at once:

"If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

To live astutely in a fallen world, we must first know ourselves. Know thyself! This reminds me of the Apostle John's account of Jesus' life, when he says that Jesus was not "entrusting Himself" to man, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man" (John 2:24-25). First, we look to ourselves. Only then can we begin to understand our world.

Back to China. As you have probably guessed, there is something about reading up on the horrors of a Communist regime that puts a slight distaste in my mouth for watching the Beijing Olympics. I have caught a race here and there, and not without enjoyment. But I cannot help but imagine that behind all commercialized glitz and glamor lies a cruel and cold system of control that has, in Sayers' words, "departed from the natural law." Go world? Really? We are way too self-congratulatory.

Laojiao. "Reform though labour". These are Chinese camps that crowd in petty criminals (prostitutes, drug dealers, political dissidents, members of house churches, and practitioners of sects -the usual dangerous types) for up to four years. Four years may not sound like much, but this is how it all starts. (For example, Solzhenitsyn recounts how over the course of his imprisonment how the typical sentences went from 8 years, to "tenners", to twenty, to twenty-five. Essentially, a death sentence for most, given camp conditions and rigors. ) I am reminded of the sober faces of Falun Gong believers marching bravely and carefully up our street in Paris a year and a half ago with signs reading "Truth, Goodness, Tolerance" and handing out fliers outlining the categorical suppression of their faith in their homeland. In France, they are allowed to speak in freedom. But what about the days of eerie silence following the recent crackdown on the largely peaceful protest of Tibetan monks? Where they are now?

"Are you from freedom?"

This quivering question was apparently a common enough greeting to a newcomer in the Laojiao - er, I mean - Gulag of Communist Russia. The pitiful figure would stumble into his squalid cell, starving, sleep-deprived, and dazed from torture - and land amongst fellow prisoners, anxious for his story and news from the outside world.

Let's be honest. Not much has changed since 70 or 80 years ago- neither in the heart of man, nor in the systems to which the pride of man succumbs. We who are still "from freedom" have our own torch to bear. Know yourself, and tell the truth about your times.

P.S. Please see the The Plank (a blog at the New Republic) for their "Chinese Dissident of the Day" feature. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, please pray for these prisoners.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Pull of Home

Please pardon my extended silence. I have been homing. Yes, like a pigeon.

You might remember my disparaging comments some weeks back about a particularly dirty and cosmopolitan manifestation of the Columbidae family. They are, in fact, quite disgusting. But I would like to revise my statements so as to leave some room for another variety known for their uncanny ability to find their way home. Let's just say I've felt an empathy for them lately. Homing pigeons are truly extraordinary creatures. They are capable of flying immense distances in order to come back to the location from whence they came. Ornithologists call this returning to a destination that is "mentally-marked." I call it fascinating.

Apparently, there are several species of birds with homing abilities. Encyclopedia Britannica informs me that the Manx shearwater (a species of bird primarily from the Isle of Man) was transported in a closed container to a point about 5,500 km (3,400 miles) from its nest, and returned to the nest in 12 1/2 days. That's an average of 272 miles a day. I guess if I lived anywhere as astoundingly beautiful as the Isle of Man, I would probably be in a hurry to hop home, too. But geez.

Regardless of location, humans seem to be similarly wired. Just a few days into our stay in Minnesota, the bulk of our homebound flight already accomplished in a packed airplane, I decided to unfurl my cramped muscles and go for a jog. With no particular route in mind, I stepped out onto my in-laws' driveway and took off. One hour later, I arrived panting at my parent's doorstep.

The pull of home.

The next day, I decided to try to elude the obvious by running in the opposite direction. Maybe this would overcome the gravitational magnetism of childhood abodes. Right. Half an hour later, I found myself padding along Hamilton Avenue, the street where I lived until the age of six. I had heard a rumor that they had torn down our old house to put up a new one. You see, sleepy old Deephaven is very chic now, and apparently the scrubby lake cabin from the 1920's that lodged my earliest memories wasn't going to cut it anymore. But the familiar pine tree still stood tall in the front yard. It was raining. I jogged around the back of the house to pass through the intense green of the untouched woods and silently thanked the new owners for respecting them. It suddenly struck me how funny it was that the workers sheet-rocking the new garage didn't know about my bunny rabbit buried somewhere deep in the ground back there. My dad had to chip for a long time at the frozen ground, because Thumper died in the wintertime.

The pull of home.

This is anything but a sentimental reminisce. We have all experienced such moments out of time. They strike an essential chord; betray our desire for another place. As C.S. Lewis explains so beautifully in his book The Weight of Glory:

"In speaking of this desire for a far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you - the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret which also pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, when mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both."

Was I sad that the little house with the red trim was gone? Perhaps a slight twinge of melancholy. (I
had indulged from time to time in the impossible fantasy of buying that house back someday.) But infinitely more moving than the loss of a small cottage was my joy over the accuracy of my internal compass. Here, I was being reminded of the "inconsolable secret", and I didn't have to hide or tell it to anyone. I could stand in the green luminosity of a dense stand of oaks and maples and enjoy it. Let myself become re-oriented. Rather than the past "mental markers,"I am ready to dwell on a future place. This is...

the pull of Home.