IMMEDIATE 3.00pm 17th September 2005
The Metropolitan Police were forced into an embarrassing climb-down this morning, as they conceded that human rights and pro-life protestors have a lawful right peacefully to assemble on the pavement right outside the Chinese Embassy in London's Portland Place.
A couple of dozen activists assembled at 10.30 am to witness against imprisonment without trial, torture and forced abortion in China, as half-a-dozen police looked on. Christian pastors of unregistered churches are regularly locked up and tortured in China, while China's enforcement of its 'one-child' policy has resulted in forced abortions and now such a gender imbalance that a large proportion of Chinese men have no prospect of ever being married and having children of their own.
The turnaround is a landmark concession by a police force which had previously tried to shield the Chinese. A permanent protest by the Falun Gong movement, detailing the tortures inflicted upon their members, has been sited across the road outside the Royal Institute of British Architects on police instruction. Up until Friday morning, Marylebone Police Superintendent Jonathan Morgan was still threatening anyone who stood on the pavement outside the Embassy with arrest. It took the serving of papers for a judicial review yesterday for the Met to climb down.
The Chinese were less than pleased at the protest on their doorstep. At one point, a Met police superintendent was seen explaining to an irate Chinese diplomat the new reality that the police now acknowledge that British people have a lawful right to peaceful protest on the streets of London.
Rev Jim Dowson, leader of UK Life League, said today: "This is a massive victory over repression and the denial of basic human rights in our own land. A precedent was set today when Christians were permitted to stand outside the Chinese Embassy in peaceful protest at the despicable human rights record of the Chinese regime. It is the first time such a protest has been allowed, and the police had to be shamed into permitting it. I have spent the last three weeks in an increasingly unreal correspondence with Superintendent Morgan, to the point where I began to have fears for the man's sanity. I still do not know whether it was him acting as a loose cannon, or whether he was under orders from above to try to spare the blushes of the Chinese. I have in any case taken the step of reporting Superintendent Morgan to the IPCC."
Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, said:
"It was important for us to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in China, and to pray for an end to forced abortions, detention without trial and torture. It was the least we could do. We talk about the Church coming under persecution in the UK, but we cannot imagine what it must be like in a country with no freedom to evangelise or worship the Lord Jesus Christ except as the State decrees.
"I counted it a privilege to stand in witness outside the Chinese Embassy, read the word of God from the Bible and prayer for God's will to be done in that land."
It was all a far cry from what happened at a previous protest on 1st July, when the Met allowed themselves to be used as a private security force of the Chinese Government, serving a Section 14 notice under the Public Order Act 1986 banning prolifers and human rights activists from UK Life League and Christian Voice from the Chinese side of the road. Inspector Robert Hedderman then told the dozen or so bemused Christians that he believed "that the assembly may result in serious disruption to the life of the community" and that "the purpose of the persons taking part in the assembly is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act that they a right to do or to do an act they have a right not to do."
Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, said at the time:
"The legislation used against us to prevent our holding a peaceful act of witness on the pavement outside the Chinese Embassy was brought in to stop violent animal rights activists intimidating researchers. To see it used to save one of the most despotic regimes on God's earth from shame on the eve of the G8 summit is nothing short of scandalous and an abuse of civil rights here in the UK.
"Moving us to the opposite side of the road hardly lessened the supposed 'disruption to the life of the community' which Inspector Hedderman pretended to be so worried about. The truth is, the British police are simply on the side of those who want to make money trading in the Chinese market. They should be on the side of peace and justice. I was able to kneel and say a few words of prayer actually outside the Embassy itself before the police moved me on, but they had no right to use such heavy-handed tactics just because the Chinese did not want the brothers of those they are torturing standing outside their London HQ."
Rev Jim Dowson, leader of UK Life League added, "This is the regime which sent tanks into Tiannamen Square and routinely tortures dissidents who are simply detained without trial. If they feel intimidated by the prayers of a few protestors, then they must know we serve a mighty God indeed."
Stephen Green continued: "We set up the vigil in the first place because of issues raised in the 2005 report from Amnesty International. The use of arbitrary detention and systematic torture as a means of repression is well documented, and that against unregistered Christians and the Falun Gong has reached sickening levels. Ms Gao Rongrong, a Falun Gong follower, died in June this year from appalling injuries sustained during prolonged torture, in particular, the use of electric batons to her face, head and neck. On top of that, we are horrified by:
"(a) The practice of forced abortions in China as part of that country's notorious 'one-child' policy, financed in part through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which Britain supports,
"(b) The persecution of Christians in China. In particular, Amnesty have specifically recorded the widespread torture and detention of Chinese Protestant pastors which has been going on for years.
"We do not agree with Amnesty International on absolutely everything they do and all their policy positions, but the human rights abuses they catalogue in China are shaming to the UK, which is happy to trade with these torturers. Amnesty even cite the case of a woman who was forcibly aborted so she could be put to death on drugs charges - Chinese law does not allow the death penalty for pregnant women. She was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment. That case is evil and barbaric, as is much else in China. So we have no hesitation in condemning China on the basis of the Amnesty Report and calling for our Government to stop financing China's human rights abuses and to ostracise China as a trading nation."
Today's protest will be embarrassing to both the Chinese and British Governments. Tony Blair has just been in China doing trade deals, and his main speech omitted any reference to torture or China's infamous 'one child' policy. Mr Blair raised human rights with the Chinese premier, but not too strongly, with several orders in the balance, including one for Airbus planes.