Protesting with a torch of their own

By Sarelle Azuelos

Local demonstrators gathered recently to raise awareness of Tibetans, the Falun Gong and other oppressed groups in China. The Human Rights Torch Relay group met in front of City Hall Monday, as part of their travels to over 40 countries with a torch of their own to protest the lack of international response to alleged Chinese human rights abuses.

Students for a Free Tibet representative Kephun Chazotsang was calling for action at the demonstration while informing people of the history of Tibet. He argued that it is ironic for an oppressive nation such as China to host the Olympics, which stands for brotherhood and peace.

“It’s easy for us to get together, to demonstrate and make some noise in Canada,” said Chazotsang. “But when they choose to do that in Tibet, they’re basically choosing death, they’re choosing prison, they’re choosing the possibility of never seeing their family again just to cry freedom.”

University of Alberta China Institute director Wenran Jiang was supportive of the rally but stressed it is important not to forget about the progress that China has accomplished.

“Human rights [according to the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights] includes the right to have a better living, and the Chinese government has probably done the most with the best record worldwide,” said Jiang, pointing out China’s comparative success battling poverty. “There are areas where China is not doing very well and areas where it is doing greatly. I think that record is a mixed one.”

University of Calgary anthropology professor Dr. Alan Smart also brought up the importance of the UN declaration.

“If we’re going to take human rights seriously, we can’t just pick and choose which ones we’re going to support,” said Smart. “Stephen Harper obviously thinks we can neglect housing and things like that and then lecture those who don’t [support] other human rights. I’m not saying that anything that’s happened in Tibet is good but there are lots of human rights abuses going on.”

Smart said pointing out China’s faults without developed nations recognizing their own could lead to China feeling targeted, but Chazotsang finds it difficult to compare Canadian and Chinese human rights abuses.

“I don’t think that any country is perfect by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any case in Canada which bares any resemblance to what’s going on inside of Tibet. Hypocrisy isn’t the best way to go about things, but for the most part it’s like comparing an apple and orange.”

Chazotsang advocates a modified boycott of the Olympics in which athletes would attend but political figures would not. While personally happy with international response, he believes that China is not listening because there are no serious repercussions for their actions. Political figures abstaining from the games would send a loud and clear message. Chazotsang also recommended the official torch relay stay out of Tibet because it would compel Tibetans to protest, leading to more deaths.

Jiang also warned protestors of the effects of their demonstrations. He does not agree that an Olympic boycott will help those in need.

“The Chinese people are very much looking forward to [the Olympic games],” said Jiang. “That’s why they come out in support of the Olympic torch relay. They do not see the games as part of the propaganda of the government, they see the games as their own coming-out party.”

Smart explained the current Olympic protests have resulted in a backlash in China and are leading to a rise in xenophobic nationalism. An Olympic boycott might fail to deliver the desired response.

Jiang had positive feelings about the future of China and the eventual end of human rights abuses there.

“They should not lose the overall bigger picture of where China is, otherwise we fail to understand China and its dynamics and where it is moving,” he said. “If the pace of what China has achieved, even on the political front, in 30 years can be projected into the next 30 years, you’d be quite optimistic.”

Chazotsang stressed that the Human Rights Relay was not anti-China or against the Olympics but simply searching for a solution.

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