Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Paris Honors Dalai Lama And Jailed Chinese Human Rights Activist

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy probably won't be awarding Parisian socialists with a Gold Medal for timing this week, as the mayor of Paris takes a surprising stand for human rights by naming the Dalai Lama, and jailed Chinese activist Hu Jia, both Honorary Citizens of the City of Lights:

Yahoo France provides the details (my translation):

On Monday, Paris officials made the Dalai Lama and the Chinese dissident Hu Jia "honorary citizens" of the City of Paris, at the risk of inflaming relations between France and China, which have been strained by the fiasco of the passing of the Olympic torch through the French capital.
The vow of the mayoralty concerning the Dalai Lama was adopted “unanimously but with many abstentions from the vote”, said socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe.
The 72 socialists voted in favor… The 54 UMP officials did not take part in the vote…

[Note: the UMP is President Sarkozy’s party]

Bertrand Delanoe confirmed during the debates that "helping the dialog is one of the duties of the City of Paris" and made known that the "spiritual commitment" of the Dalai Lama was "to [the mayor's] point of view, secondary in relation to the future of the Tibetan people."

"I am secular. I have not become Buddhist", the mayor explained. ...

[Photo from the Dalai Lama's 2003 visit to Paris, seen here accompanied by mayor Delanoe]

I wasn't familiar with Hu Jia, the particular activist that Paris' Green Party nominated to share the honorary status granted to the Dalai Lama.

According to Amnesty International, Hu's case makes "a mockery of promises made by Chinese officials that human rights would improve in the run-up to the Olympics.”

Hu started his activism as an AIDS activist in 2001. He is the co-founder of the Beijing Aizhixing Institute of Health Education and of Loving Source, a grassroots organization dedicated to helping children from AIDS families.


Prior to his formal detention, Hu Jia had publicly expressed concerns over human rights abuses by police in Beijing, including the arrest of activists without the necessary legal procedures. This included the case of land rights activist Yang Chunlin and human rights defender Lu Gengsong, both also detained on subversion charges.

While detained, Hu has been subjected to 47 lengthy and repeated interrogations. He was denied access to his lawyer, members of his family and medical treatment, including necessary daily medication for liver disease resulting from a Hepatitis B infection. His wife, Zeng Jinyan, is still under house arrest with their newborn baby....

Amnesty International chronicles many more stories like Hu's, in their comprehensive report What human rights legacy for the Beijing Olympics?

China is a little upset by the Paris councillors' decision. Their reaction, according to the report from Le Figaro (my translation):

"This decision is a coarse interference in Chinese interior affairs, seriously damaging to French-Chinese relations", declared Jiang Yu, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, reminding France also to "take concrete measures to safeguard these bilateral relations". For Chinese authorities, the Council of Paris' decision "will now encourage the arrogance of the Dalai Lama and his pro-independance Tibetan partisans."
Monday, before the vote, the Paris councillors had received a message on letterhead from the Chinese Ambassador in France, to dissuade them from making the Dalai Lama an "honorary citizen" of the French capital...

Pierre Schapira, one of the mayor's deputies who had knowledge of the Chinese message, explained that the letter's author warned the Paris councillors in "extremely violent" terms, explaining that in distinguishing the Dalai Lama, they were "worsening the situation in Tibet".

"I was scandalized by this ultimatum. I had never seen an ambassador who put pressure on elected officials in this manner", Pierre Schapira declared.

The communique, however, did not mention Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia. ...

Did the Chinese Ambassadorial mission to France influence recalcitrant Parisian city councillors with their bull-in-a-China-shop approach to diplomacy?

UPDATE: I see that vigilant France-watcher Tiberge at GalliaWatch also a post on this story, with a more detailed account of the breakdown of votes, including the curious fact that Paris' eight Communist officials abstained from voting...

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