From Boston Globe – A mock Olympic torch relay drew about 300 protesters to Boston Common yesterday to rally against China’s alleged human rights violations as the country prepares to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
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The stop was said to be the first in North America for the Human Rights Torch Relay, an international campaign against Chinese human rights abuses that has held similar events in 80 cities worldwide. Organizers said the event was meant to encourage China to embrace the humanitarian spirit of the Olympics.
The issue of human rights in China has been in the international spotlight, especially after director Steven Spielberg withdrew last month as artistic director of the games. Spielberg said he was stepping down because China, Sudan’s largest trading partner, had not used enough of its leverage over the Sudanese government to resolve the conflict in Darfur.According to Reuters, China’s foreign minister last month defended his country’s right to host the 2008 Olympics in the face of criticism over human rights. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, “People in China enjoy extensive freedom of speech.”
The International Olympic Committee recently expressed concern over violence in Tibet and human rights abuses by the Chinese government.
“Since they were awarded [the Olympics] in 2000, organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations have reported that [China’s] human rights abuses have gotten worse,” said Steve Gigliotti, spokesman for the event. A number of speakers appeared on the Parkman Bandstand, including representatives from the Tibetan Association of Boston, Doctors Without Borders, and the John Birch Society.
The event began at 8 a.m. in Hopkinton, where the torch-bearer, Paul Guzzi, a physical education teacher at Hardy Elementary School in Wellesley, kicked off his 27-mile run to downtown Boston. After Guzzi arrived at the Common at about 12:15 p.m., the Tianguo Marching Band from New York City played the coalition’s theme song, “Human Rights Torch,” and participants began following Guzzi around the Common in a procession.
One spectator, Donald Connetti, 70, of Greenville, R.I., said he changed his plans to attend the games this summer in Beijing because of the country’s human rights issues.
“I believe that China should be free like America. We were led by founding fathers that guided us, and that’s what China needs now,” Connetti said, adding, “All you need is a governmental change.”
Michael He, 40, of Westborough, said he came because he is a practitioner of Falun Gong, a spiritual group many say has been persecuted in China. “Human rights abuses and the Olympics cannot coexist in China,” said He, who emigrated from China 20 years ago.
Last Friday, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a resolution in support of the group, declaring next month “Human Rights Torch Relay Month.”
In addition, Senator Edward M. Kennedy sent a letter of support, noting, “We as a nation also have an obligation to speak out about China’s recent actions in Tibet and its role in human rights abuses in other nations as well.”
State Senator Diane Wilkerson, Boston City Councilor Michael Ross, and Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch attended yesterday’s rally, during which there were no arrests, police said.