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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Ottawa rally for human rights in China

August 1, 2008

Press conference and demonstration in Ottawa Aug. 7
By Beryl Wajsman, Editor
The Suburban (Quebec, Canada)
July 30, 2008

Suburban editor Beryl Wajsman's Institute for Public Affairs of
Montreal along with Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the international human
rights campaigner will participate in a rally in Ottawa on Aug. 7.

Several weeks ago Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the international human rights
campaigner, called me up with an idea. She said that though a boycott
rally of the Beijing Olympics was fruitless, she thought it was
important to make some kind of demonstration for human rights in
China on the eve of the Games' opening.

When she became the first Canadian to ever reach first runner-up
status in the Miss World competition, the event took place in
Beijing. The timing and the place resonated with her. She had called
on some of her fellow contestants from that year to see if they would
come with her to Beijing to stage a protest. She called me to see
what I thought.

I had worked closely with Nazanin on several of her campaigns through
my Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal. Through her fight to
free Nazanin Fatehi from Tehran's infamous Evin prison to her
world-wide campaign against child executions. Nazanin was also a
speaker and eloquent spokesperson at several of the Institute's
conferences, most recently last August's on Darfur that you can see
reported in full at

My initial reaction was to applaud her courage, but cautioned against
the risk of staging something like this in China. I told her I would
make some calls and see what we could organize. My first outreach was
to former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and former Secretary of State
for Asia/Pacific David Kilgour.

Kilgour, with Winnipeg attorney David Matas, had authored the seminal
study of Chinese human rights abuses, persecution of the Falun Gong
and the human tragedy of organ harvesting. Cotler had just finished a
12-point program for holding China accountable to international human
rights standards. Both thought the idea was great. But that it should
not be held in Beijing.

After some initial study of the feasibility of a demonstration in
Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee sits, or Geneva,
where the UN Human Rights Council is headquartered, it was determined
that there would not be enough attention in either city where so many
of the bureaucrats and press were either out-of-session or in Beijing.

Cotler then suggested having an event in Ottawa. Kilgour found out
that several groups in the nation's capital were trying to stage a
demonstration in front of the Chinese Embassy. He brought us in
contact with one of the driving forces, the Canada-Tibet Committee.

What has taken shape is a two-stage demonstration. On Aug. 7, a day
before the official opening of the Games, we will hold a press
conference on Parliament Hill in the Charles Lynch Room in the Centre
Bloc. After the conference we will proceed to meet the main body of
demonstrators at the Chinese Embassy on St. Patrick Street. We will
gather across the street from the main door of the Embassy. Nazanin
will be the spokesperson for the rally.

Much work has been put into this day by the Canada-Tibet Committee.
We would encourage all readers to contact the committee's executive
director Dermod Travis at 514-487-0665 or visit if they
are interested in participating. Transportation to Ottawa will be
available through the committee and the Institute. Travis asks anyone
calling to leave a message if the lines are tied up.

It is important to bear memory and witness at this time. To stand up
and say that it is not just about bread and circuses. For when people
ask in the future "Where were you when?" you can answer that you
stood with conscience and courage.

Sport does not take place in a vacuum. It is part of our everyday
fabric. It is informed by events around us and is often used as a
tool of propaganda. That is reality. The images we see on our screens
and in our newspapers have very real overt and subliminal effects.
Our reactions to those images, what we teach young people to value,
have very real repercussions around the world.

If the Olympics are just games, then it belies what the Olympic
movement itself says. It believes it is propagating universal values.
But if those values are hijacked by tyrants, then what do we have
left? The message that brute force is everything and can bend all to
its will? That this alone constitutes "winning"? That there is
nothing worth standing up for?

Sport is not a moral resort area where we can afford not to take a stand
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