CHICAGO—The Human Rights Torch was lit at Chicago's Lincoln Park this past Saturday in the presence of politicians, rights activists and local community groups.
Consisting of a series of speeches and a symbolic walk with the torch around Lincoln Park's North Pond, the event was part of the Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) that has traveled to over 30 U.S. cities since the end of March.
Mayor James Burke of Dixon, Illinois, the first speaker, used human rights to contrast China with the United States.
"The human spirit cannot be corralled, harnessed and held in check like livestock. Furthermore, China will not realize its full potential for greatness until it frees this human spirit. American is not without serious faults, but the absence of human rights in this country is not one of them," said the mayor.
Congressman Bobby Rush and the Clerk Dorothy Brown of the Circuit Court of Cook County were represented at the event by their deputies.
The Congressman's letter, read by Deputy District Director Younus Suleman, calls attentions to China's human rights abuses both inside and outside China as opposition to the Olympic spirit while encouraging effort to press China for change.
"The continuing and, in fact, worsening human rights violations in China and that country's support of abuses in other parts of the world, including Darfur, stand in direct opposition to the Olympic spirit. . . As the Global Human Rights Torch continues its journey, it is lighting the way for all of us of good faith to continue pressing for change in China and wherever humanity is under assault," the letter says.
The Clerk Dorothy Brown's letter of support, read by Ms. Jalyne Strong, Chief Deputy Clerk of Public Information, mentions the countries whose human rights abuses are said to have been supported by China.
"This torch is hugely significant because it symbolizes our united stance in a worldwide effort to raise awareness about not only the human rights abuses of the Chinese Communist Party but also the ongoing persecutions of people under corrupt regimes in the countries of Myanmar, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Darfur and wherever unjust practices are being inflicted upon humankind," says the Clerk in the letter.
U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin, Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter, Illinois State Representative William Davis were among those who greeted the Chicago's HRTR with letters of support.
Each of the speakers had a different focus: Burma, Vietnam, Tibet, underground churches, Falun Gong, the Uyghurs, and press freedom. The stories they told—widely apart in time and space—were all meant to expose the Chinese regime's human rights violations.
Dr. Nora Rowley, a medical doctor who was on a mission with Doctors Without Borders in Burma (Myanmar) one and a half years ago, spoke of China's role in Burma's humanitarian crisis. One of her points was the junta's efforts to block aid to help victims of last week's cyclone that is said to have killed as many as 100,000 people.
Mr. Thang Do, research scientist and president of the Vietnamese American Social and Culture Council of Illinois, drew attention to human rights violations by the communist regimes in both Vietnam and China.
"I am here today because my conscience told me to speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves, people whose rights are severely violated," said Mr. Do.
Representing the Tibetan communities was Tenzin Peldun, a student at Chicago's Francis W. Parker School, who began her speech saying, "Imagine it's March 10 and you hear on the news about the riots and uprisings in Tibet.
"You begin to wonder whether your family in Tibet is safe," she continued. "You want to call them so badly, but because you know how Tibetans are treated by the Chinese Communist Party in Tibet, you can't. You don't want to put their lives in danger because they have tapped the phone lines."
One of the stories told by Monica Westin, a graduate at the University of Chicago, was meant to illustrate how the Uyghurs in Xinjiang have been vilified by CCP propaganda.
"Perhaps my strongest memory of Xinjiang is of sitting across from a fellow teacher my age who was Han Chinese, who urged me to stay away from the Uyghurs. She leaned in and said, without a trace of irony, that the Uyghur people will try to infect all Chinese and Western people with needles that contain drugs and the HIV virus."
Falun Gong was represented at the event by Ms. Zhang Tianxiao, whose mother and brother died in China because of refusing their belief in Falun Gong while her younger sister has disappeared since February 2002 after being arrested for the same reason.
Mr. William Federer, a best-selling author and former US congressional candidate, highlighted China's lack of freedom of press with the imprisonment of journalists in China, while Beth Copeland, president of Voice of the Martyrs, voiced her concern about the persecution of underground Christians in China.
The last speaker, Chen Kai, former member of China's national basketball team, said that the Beijing Olympics "will go down in history," along with the Nazi party's 1936 Olympic games and the 1980 Soviet Olympics.
The Human Rights Torch Relay, according to its web site, was
initiated by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun
Gong. Its purpose is to raise people's awareness about China's human
rights violations, especially during the run-up to the Olympics. The
Relay continues on May 14 in Ottawa, Canada and on May 17 in Toronto,