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Human Rights Activists Push for Greater Freedom of Expression in China - 2004-04-09

Human rights activists held a rally in front of the United Nations in New York on Thursday. They are calling on the world body to support a U.S. draft resolution urging China to allow investigations of reports that it is repressing freedom of expression and religion.

Several hundred people gathered in front of the United Nations to show their support for the resolution, which the United States has presented to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Haiying He, one of the rally's organizers, says condemning China's human rights violations is a top priority, followed by a call for the release of religious and political prisoners. He added, "Number two is to call for immediate release of all those millions of persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, underground church members, Tibetans, democracy activists who are imprisoned or tortured or persecuted because of their conscience."

Human rights advocates say China is persecuting its citizens based on their religious and political beliefs. In its latest report, the private Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China, says nearly four and a half thousand people were arrested by Chinese authorities in 2001 because of their participation in underground churches. The group says nearly 70 million Chinese are secretly practicing Christianity.

Qing Liu, president of the private group Human Rights in China, says the Chinese government has allowed more space for people to speak out, for example, allowing a doctor to criticize China's handling of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS disease last year. But, he thinks, the overall human rights situation is worse.

Yufeng Liang, another rally organizer, feels demonstrations like these give hope to those persecuted in China. "Here we give encouragement for people in China fighting for democracy and also for those people persecuted," he said. "They will see so many people support them, to help rescue them and also we will let more and more people know the persecution in China."

The 53-member U.N. human rights commission will decide next week whether to vote on the draft resolution.