Sep 2, 2018

Protesters aim to shed light on human rights in China

Dorothy Dobie, co-chair of The Lights Of The North festival, said about one million light bulbs are being used for the various displays. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)
Falun Gong practitioners raise awareness of spiritual practice outside Lights of the North festival
Carol Sanders
Winnipeg Free Press
September 1, 2018

Demonstrators outside the $4-million Lights of the North festival which opened Friday night say they want to shine a light on human rights abuses in China.

"We hope the persecution will stop," said protest organizer Phuong Nguyen, an adherent of the spiritual practice Falun Gong. She said she wants to let Canadians know about Falun Gong and its practitioners, who’ve been harassed and held as political prisoners in China.

"We want to let people know (Falun Gong) is good," Nguyen said before the event, billed as Canada’s largest Chinese lantern festival, opened its doors at the Red River Exhibition Park. (It runs through Oct. 14.)

"It’s a Chinese spiritual practice and (is) based on truthfulness, compassion and forbearance," she said, citing Falun Gong values written on the protest banner.

"Unfortunately, it is persecuted right now in China, so we’re trying to raise awareness of persecution," said Nguyen, who immigrated to Canada from Vietnam 10 years ago. "We hope more people know about this situation, so the Chinese government will do something.

"We criticize the (Communist Party), not the Chinese people — and not the Chinese culture with 5,000 years of history."

A member of the committee promoting Lights of the North — which includes a lantern art replica of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights — said it is a celebration that aims to promote stronger ties between Winnipeg and its sister city in China, Chengdu.

"We’re looking at stimulating trade and tourism," Brian Wood said.

In 1989, Wood managed the Winnipeg zoo visit of pandas from China. It was part of an exchange arranged in 1988 by then-mayor Bill Norrie and chamber of commerce president Dorothy Dobbie: Winnipeg got two giant pandas for a one-year visit and Chengdu received a pair of polar bear cubs.

Lights of the North was crafted by dozens of artisans from Chengdu. The six-week show celebrates 2018 as the "Year of Canada-China Tourism" and aims to revive Winnipeg’s relationship with Chengdu.

"With Winnipeg’s sister city Chengdu coming here, it’s a good opportunity to raise awareness and ask that city to stop the persecution of Falun Gong members," Nguyen said.

In 1999, as Falun Gong became more popular in China, it alarmed the communist regime, which targeted its practitioners, said Winnipeg sociology professor and protester Maria Cheung, who practises Falun Gong.

In 2006, a report co-authored by international human rights lawyer David Matas documented cases of forced harvesting of the organs of Falun Gong members and other involuntary donors in China.

China’s relatively new organ-transplant industry has quickly become one of the world’s largest, despite a lack of donors. After being questioned internationally about how it was sourcing organs, the Chinese regime announced in 2015 it would stop using organs from executed death-row prisoners and rely entirely on voluntary donations.

A 336-page report released in July by the China Organ Harvest Research Centre — which mentions a hospital in Chengdu — said evidence indicates large numbers of organs continue to come from prisoners — mainly prisoners of conscience.

Human rights advocates hope Winnipeg can pass along some sisterly advice to Chengdu.

"A true sister tells her sister the truth," Matas said. "Sister-city arrangements are meant to foster cultural understanding.

"The Chengdu Chinese should understand what the Winnipeg culture of human rights means," he said, referring to the human rights museum. "It does not mean just a building. What the building stands for is promotion of respect for human rights."

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