The following op-ed about jailed Chinese dissident Dr. Wang Binghzhang—written by Cambridge University law student Gabriel Latner, a recent intern with UN Watch—appears in today’s National Post of Canada. In March, UN Watch and its partners brought Dr. Wang’s daughter, 21-year-old McGill University student Ti-Anna Wang, to testify at the 2011 Geneva Summit.Click for video. A week later, UN Watch, represented by Mr. Latner, raised the case of Dr. Wang in the plenary of the UN Human Rights Council. The Chinese government tried to silence UN Watch. Click for video. Mr. Latner is already known to many for his winning speech from the October 21, 2010 Cambridge Union debate—”Why Israel is a rogue state”—which went viral on the internet.
How Canada can force China’s hands on human rights
May 16, 2011
By Gabriel Latner
In his victory speech, Prime Minister Harper spoke of making Canada “truly strong and free”, and the “best country in the world, but always striving to be better.” It makes for nice rhetoric, but if the Prime Minister truly believes in freedom, and its pre-eminence in Canada’s culture, he will publicly demand China release Dr. Wang Bingzhang.
Wang Binghzhang represents the kind of immigrant Canada’s successes have been built on. He studied hard at McGill, eventually earning a PhD in pathology — all while raising a family. Dr. Wang is dedicated to the Canadian values of freedom, democracy and peace. According to his daughter, it was this dedication that lead him to try bring these values to his native land of China. He co-founded the International Pro-Chinese Democracy Movement, and played a key role in organizing the Tienanmen Square protests in 1989. For these actions, he is hated by the Chinese government. That raises the question over how much China can truly claim to respect Canada — it treats our values as threats to its own existence.
When Dr. Wang was in Vietnam in 2002, China “disappeared” him — they sent a team to kidnap him and take him to China, where he was held secretly for months. When Dr. Wang’s family finally found out where he was, the news only got worse. Dr. Wang had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment — without any evidence or witnesses to condemn him. He is currently in solitary confinement. All this for the “crime” of preaching the merits of democracy and human rights, the birthrights of all Canadians.
So far, Canada’s official response has been lacking. In 2003, a parliamentary standing committee submitted a report, noting that the standing committee — not even Parliament — “Calls upon the Chinese Government to release Dr. Wang Bingzhang from prison, and permit him to be reunited with his family and colleagues.” Nothing further has been said in the eight years since.
Some have tried to explain away Canada’s feeble response to the situation by re-iterating that Dr. Wang does not hold Canadian citizenship. It’s true, he chose not take Canadian citizenship so that he could keep his Chinese passport out of solidarity with those suffering in his homeland. Ironically, it was this loyalty to the people that led China’s leaders to revoke Wang’s Chinese citizenship, leaving him stateless.
But if that is all that prevents the Canadian government from defending him — a lack of a passport — this can be easily remedied. Wang’s parents, children and siblings are Canadian citizens. He has a doctorate from one of our finest universities. He is a world-renowned academic, human rights expert and activist. If he’s ever able to set foot in Canada again, he would certainly meet all qualifications for Canadian citizenship.
As another option, Parliament and the Governor-General could bestow honourary citizenship on Dr. Wang. They’ve done so five times before: To honour Raoul Wallenberg, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi and the fourth Aga Khan, a prominent philanthropist and the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim community. Certainly Wang Bingzhang would fit in well with that illustrious quintet, and he certainly has stronger ties to Canada.
Such citizenship may only be symbolic, but for a prisoner of conscience languishing alone in a cell, symbols can mean the difference between life and death.
But the demand our Prime Minister must make of China need not be merely symbolic — because Canada finally has leverage over China: the oil sands. China’s monster of an economy requires constant new sources of fuel, and have invested billions in Alberta’s oil sands. They’re just waiting for Canada to give them the go-ahead to start development.
So let’s not. Tie their rights to develop their oil sand holdings to them meeting their humanitarian obligations. China can let Wang Bingzhang go or start looking elsewhere for oil.
Gabriel Latner, a Toronto native, studies law at the University of Cambridge. As an intern for UN Watch, a human rights NGO at the Geneva office of the United Nations, he testified before the Human Rights Council about Wang Bingzangh’s imprisonment.