‘Darkness Before Dawn’ – China’s rights activists



A prominent Uighur scholar who is serving a life sentence for separatism in a Chinese prison was named on Wednesday as a finalist for a prestigious human rights award for trying to promote dialogue in the troubled Xinjiang region of China, The New York Times reports:

The scholar, Ilham Tohti (above), was chosen by the Martin Ennals Foundation, based in Switzerland, as one of three candidates for its annual prize recognizing the work of human rights defenders. The group, which is named after the founder of Amnesty International, said in its citation that Mr. Tohti, an economist, “has worked tirelessly to foster dialogue and understanding” between China’s Uighur minority and the country’s dominant ethnic group, the Han, “despite an environment of religious, cultural and political repression suffered by Uighurs.”

Since the creation of the World Uyghur Congress in 2004, the situation in East Turkestan has worsened, said Ms Louisa Greve, Vice-President for Asia, Middle East and North Africa and Global Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). However, she identified four points of progress for a recent UNPO conference:

First, the Uyghur regular presence at the UN has increased and there is an organised advocacy group, which has an important role at the international level. Second, the WUC and the organisations affiliated to it have gained international credibility. Third, Uyghur, Tibetan, Chinese, and international groups are now cooperating to an unprecedented degree. Finally, international media coverage of the Uyghurs’ situation has greatly improved in both quantity and quality. 

The American Bar Association has rejected a potentially incendiary book that is being written by the Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao, but others are exploring the possibility of publishing it, The Times adds:

With the working title “Darkness Before Dawn,” the book is at the center of a public brawl between Mr. Teng and the American Bar Association, which is primarily a professional organization for lawyers in the United States but also has an office in Beijing that aims to help build up the legal system in China.

The dispute has raised questions as to whether foreign nongovernmental organizations working in China engage in self-censorship. That is an issue that will become more acute if China passes a proposed law putting more than 7,000 such foreign groups under police oversight. The law could be passed this week.

Longtime Chinese human rights champion and former political prisoner Harry Wu (left), who advocated on behalf of those in brutal forced labor camps, has died at age 79, according to his research foundation.

During his life, Wu claims to have spent time in 12 Chinese labor camps, where he experienced harsh work and torture among other abuses, VOA adds:

He was released in 1979 and moved to the United States in 1985 where he worked to raise awareness about the Chinese prison system, founding the Washington, D.C.-based Laogai Research Foundation.

In 1995, Wu was arrested during a visit to China on charges of espionage in response to his human rights work. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a speedy trial, but was ultimately deported to the United States where he continued his work, writing several books and creating the Laogai Museum, devoted to preserving the memories of the laogai’s many victims.

“Harry Wu will forever be remembered for his courage in confronting oppression, injustice, and the brutal human rights abuses perpetuated against political prisoners in his native China,” said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi today. “With his passing, the world has lost a global champion for freedom and democracy.”

“After surviving torturous imprisonment in China, Harry dedicated his life to exposing the truth about prison camps.  As a proud American citizen, Harry often testified before Congress about the brutal, so-called reform through work system, which has been allegedly abolished in China,” she added.

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