SANTA FE—New Mexico residents, in a show of support for human rights in China, welcomed the Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) as it arrived in the state capital of Santa Fe on May 18.
"We join the rest of the country to honor our commitment to civil rights, especially in [light of] the Olympics, as it relates to China," said Jim Trujillo, New Mexico state representative of district 45 (Santa Fe).
The all-day event, held downtown at Santa Fe Plaza, featured representation from Darfur, Tibetan, Falun Gong, Christian and other community and rights groups, as well as government representatives and performances by regional artists.
The HRTR is an international grassroots campaign aimed at raising awareness of continued human rights atrocities committed by China's communist regime ahead of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics.
Information was readily available from various participating groups, including the Darfur Action Committee, Tibetan Community of Santa Fe, The Persecuted Church, Students for a Free Tibet, and the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong-who organized the Human Rights Torch Relay.
A march, led by Representative Trujillo and former Olympic gold-medalist John Murphy, culminated in the lighting of the Human Rights Torch in front of the state capitol.
Murphy, a U.S. gold medal winner in the 1972 4 x 100 men's freestyle swimming relay and bronze medalist in the backstroke, spoke of the significance of the Olympic Games and its relationship to China and human rights.
"It's a privilege to participate. It's a privilege to host it," he said.
"One of the conditions of them [China] being able to host the Olympics was that they would improve on their human rights, and it seems to have gotten a lot worse. A lot of this is about tolerance. They haven't shown any tolerance for anybody that doesn't think exactly the way they do. "The whole world is watching. It can be turned into a positive thing," Murphy added.
Representative Trujillo expressed the importance of human rights, and the spirit of the people of Santa Fe. "It's very important ... we don't really understand [first hand] the violation of human rights in New Mexico, because ... we respect every individual and every race, and we respect the character of the person."
Officials Show Support
Santa Fe mayor David Coss began the rally with a proclamation of support for the HRTR, declaring May 18, 2008 "Human Rights Torch Relay Day." The proclamation also called on Chinese authorities to "Disclose the names, whereabouts, and legal status of all those detained in Tibet" and "Release all prisoners of conscience."
United States Congressman Tom Udall (D-N.M.) sent a statement of support, which referenced his introduction of "a resolution in 2004 that called for the Government of China to release immediately all prisoners of conscience as a gesture of goodwill." He also expressed condolences and sympathy for the "grave loss of life" during the recent earthquake near Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
Brian Egolf, upcoming House member for District 47, issued a strong statement. "With the lighting of the torch today, we vehemently reject China's claims that it is opening itself to the world and that it is increasing its respect for individual freedom and human rights.
"With the events of the past two weeks, the true nature of the regime has revealed itself," he added. "By hindering the flow of people and information, the governments of China and Burma have delayed needed relief and assistance to their people. Were these governments more open, many lives might have been saved."
Krista Tally, 24, was concerned over the impact of allowing the games to be held in Beijing. "I feel that by having the Olympics in China, it's like saying what they do is ok; it's like validating the Communist Party—validating what they are doing—to hold such an event there," Ms. Tally said. "I just don't think it's right."
Eyewitness accounts of the harvesting of organs from imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners surfaced in 2006 and prompted a two-month investigation led by former Canada Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgore and renowned human rights lawyer David Matas, which concluded that the accounts of organ harvesting were, in fact, true.
Krista, marching with others to the state capitol building, spoke of learning about the harvesting of organs from Falun Gong practitioners. "I'm shocked. The more I'm finding out, the more shocked I am."
Representative Trujillo was also affected by the organ harvesting reports. "I just think that it's inhuman to take organs from individuals [and] sell them to somebody else at a high cost."
Many from Santa Fe's Tibetan community attended the event, and spokesperson Rigzin Latoe recounted the oppression of Tibetans, the desire and hope for justice, and preservation of traditional culture.
Students for a Free Tibet spokeswoman Kathy NiKeefe spoke against China's usage of the Olympics to further an agenda. "In relation to Tibet, the Chinese government is using the 2008 Olympics as a tool to legitimize its illegal occupation of Tibet and to gain acceptance as a leader on the world stage."
Ms. Nikeefe also spoke of the March uprising in Lhasa, Tibet, where Chinese communist authorities "opened fire on crowds" and arrested "thousands of people, beating and torturing and killing many." She added that information was difficult to obtain "because they [Chinese authorities] have put the entire country on media lockdown, only allowing Chinese state run news to be shown."
Santa Fe County Commissioner Virginia Vigil, who was in Lhasa during the uprising, experienced this firsthand. "As we were confined to our hotel, we watched the BBC. Upon hearing the announcement 'In Lhasa, Tibet today … ' there was an immediate blackout," Vigil said. "The first time I saw this I thought it was a reception problem. The second, third and fourth time I saw this—I knew it was censorship."
Elly Sherr, with Jews for Jesus, spoke of China's ongoing persecution of Christians and the growth of underground House churches, stating that government-sanctioned churches were "not acceptable to many Christians because we are to worship God in spirit and truth, and not as man dictates." Sherr also reminded those present that "communism is an atheistic ideology [and] God is not allowed. The [communist] government must control the citizens of their society" and added "even though you can control the lives of men and women, you cannot control their spirits ... in our hearts there is a sanctuary."
Before and after the midday march and rally, attendees were entertained with contemporary and traditional music performances by artists donating their time and support. These included the groups Grand Canyon, Gimme My Moon Back, Susan Lowery, StoneDeep and Justice Will Prevail, as well as solo performances by Alan Byrd, Billy D. (of the HooDoos) and local Country and Western legend Bill Hearne.
The Truth, Compassion, Tolerance art exhibition was also featured at the event, containing artwork by Falun Gong practitioners. The exhibit often portrayed personal experiences of persecution.
Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States, also containing the oldest house and church. The HRTR now heads for Canada as part of its ongoing global campaign.
For further information, visit: www.humanrightstorch.org