Tiananmen hero bound for Belfast
Great news today that Shao Jiang, one of the student organisers of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, is bound for Belfast, to speak at an Amnesty conference next month. Shao spent years in prison in China for his human rights activities and is now helping Amnesty campaign for changes there in advance of the 2008 Olympics. The Games are due to start in Beijing twelve months from today.
Shao will be speaking at Stand Up For Human Rights, a conference being held on Saturday 15th September at Queen's University.
The 'Tank Man' of Tiananmen Square is one of my (and that of many others, I'm sure) all time heroes. The image of the lone protestor, confronting a column of the 'People's Army' tanks, became an immediate icon of freedom, burned into the consciousness - and conscience - of many who remember watching those weeks of protest unfold in the heart of the Chinese capital in April, May and June of 1989.
To hear from one of his brave colleagues, who has done the jail-time yet continues the struggle for human rights, will be a privilege. One not to be missed by anyone who remembers those early summer days of eighteen years ago or who wants an insight into China in the 21st century. You can read Shao Jiang's Amnesty blog here.
Of course, his visit to Belfast comes at an interesting time in Sino-Northern Irish relations, as we have recently seen our political leaders meet with the Chinese Consul General to the UK to discuss the possible establishment of a Chinese consulate here. I have been in touch with OFMDFM to discuss Amnesty's human rights concerns in China and expect to meet with them soon to try to ensure that human rights are on the agenda of any further meetings with the Chinese Government's representatives.
It is good then that Shao Jiang will be joined on the Amnesty platform in September by Anna Lo MLA, the first Chinese person to be elected to any Assembly or Parliament in the UK.
Anna, born in Hong Kong, is a stout defender of human rights and has a strong record of fighting racism in Northern Ireland, some of it personally directed at her as the most prominent Northern Irish-Chinese citizen.
In the run-up to the Olympics next year, Amnesty will be building pressure on the Chinese authorities to make major reforms in the areas of the death penalty, fair trials, torture and freedom of expression.
China is the world's biggest Death Penalty user - we expect 8,000 people to be put to death there between now and the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing. Will the Olympic torch be able to shine a beacon of hope into China's torture and execution chambers or will China's awful human rights record dim the Games' flame?
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.