Sunday, 14th October 2001
I sincerely regret that I am unable to attend this conference today. Perhaps my absence is not altogether inappropriate, since I am currently in Cyprus addressing the human rights issues associated with the many thousands of people there who are unable to return to their homes.
At the forefront of defending human rights is a necessity to raise public consciousness. The continuing persecution of members of the Falun Gong and in particular, the well-documented deaths in custody, are utterly unacceptable and entirely deserving of public awareness, action, and indignation. As such, I am delighted that this high profile event is taking place today.
As I am sure you are aware, the Greater London Assembly passed a motion on 21st December 2000, supporting the rights of the Falun Gong, to freedom of thought and religion, and the manifestation of those rights in public or private worship, practice or teaching.
Implicit in that resolution was recognition of Falun Gong as a peaceful, spiritual movement, and in the same breath, as a movement with rights enshrined in Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
My first interaction with the Chinese Government over this issue was back in May 2000, when met the First Secretary of the Chinese Embassy. Following extended correspondence with the Chinese Ambassador I most publicly criticised his award of an honorary degree from Middlesex University. Throughout my interactions with the Chinese authorities, there has been no tendency towards reconciliation, and no lack of conviction on their part that they were ever in the wrong.
I and my colleagues on the Assembly are proud to have played some small part in publicising the unacceptable treatment of Falun Gong practitioners who routinely suffer torture and intimidation in China, and democratic restrictions in the UK.
I shall continue to highlight such incidents and I pledge my full and firm support to the Falun Gong and its followers.
Cllr Brian Coleman,
Greater London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden.
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