More than a dozen human rights activists rallied outside the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) in Taipei yesterday, hoping to deliver a petition to urge the US government to guarantee Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng’s (陳光誠) safety and provide assistance to him, his supporters and family.
Standing in the pouring rain, more than a dozen human rights advocates held portraits of Chen, as well as placards that read: “Guarantee Chen’s Safety” and “Everyone is Chen Guangcheng.” They also chanted slogans urging the US to offer Chen assistance.
However, because the AIT office is designated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a restricted area for assemblies, the activists were surrounded by police officers, while dozens more officers formed a human wall in front of the AIT building.
“We’re here to call on the US government to guarantee the safety of Chen, his family and his supporters,” said Amnesty International Taiwan chairman Freddy Lim (林昶佐), who is also the lead vocalist of the metal band Chthonic. “Currently, the US and China are holding talks on economic and strategic cooperation. We want to remind them that national interests should not be protected at the expense of human rights.”
Chen, a well-known dissident, who angered authorities in rural China by exposing forced abortions, escaped from house arrest last month and went to the US embassy in Beijing. Earlier this week, he left the embassy for a checkup at a hospital, but then told friends that he felt threatened and wanted to leave China.
“I have the same background as Chen — I am also a lawyer and I am also visually impaired — so I think I understand his feelings better,” attorney Lee Ping-hung (李秉宏) said. “I hope the US and China handle Chen’s case well, to set a good example for similar incidents to come.”
Taiwan Association for Human Rights chairman Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強) called on the US to remember the founding principles of the country.
“The US should respect Chen’s will and help him — the right to pursue freedom and happiness is the founding principle of the United States,” he said.
He also called on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to address human rights conditions in China and said that the government should postpone the eighth round of talks between the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits until Chen is free.
After the brief rally was over, police officers told the group that three representatives would be allowed into the AIT office to deliver their petition.
However, when the three were on the steps of the AIT office, the police asked them to tell the remaining people to leave.
The representatives said that they had already declared the protest over and they had no power to ask individuals to go who chose to stay of their own free will.
The officers then refused to allow a meeting between the representatives and AIT officials, and the groups later decided to send the petition to the AIT by mail.
In a departure from routine practice, no AIT official came out to meet with the protesters.
In response to an inquiry from the Taipei Times, AIT spokesperson Christopher Kavanagh said he had intended to go out and receive the petition as he has done in the past. However, Kavanagh said the protesters were told that an official would come out to receive the petition if the protesters moved slightly to allow the public to access the AIT building, because they were blocking public access to the consular entrance. The protesters then told the AIT they would mail the petition, Kavanagh said.