Jan 17, 2005
Dr. Martin Luther King (AFP/CENTRAL PRESS) and Dr. Charles Lee
This week includes two important dates: Martin Luther King Day, celebrated on the third Monday of each January, and the two-year mark of Charles Lee's illegal detention in China, on the 22nd of January.
What could Dr. King and Dr. Lee possibly have in common? Dr. King was born in Atlanta in 1929 and led the United States' Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. Dr. Lee was just a toddler when King's activities reached their peak. Lee was born in China and became a naturalised U.S. citizen only a few years ago, whereas King, who was black, lived in the United States all his life.
But while one is celebrated in a national holiday and one isn't yet, and although one was murdered and one is currently jailed in China, what the two have in common is the courage and integrity to use non-violent action to uphold justice and stand up for people's freedom at great risk to themselves. Oh, and they also share one more thing: both have been considered criminals for their actions.
Many Americans still don't understand why Charles Lee did what he did. Two years ago he left his comfortable California life, said goodbye to his fiancée at the airport and boarded a plane for China. Once there, he planned to use simple technology to override the broadcast signal of Chinese state-run television.
Instead of propaganda inciting genocide against Falun Gong, people in China would suddenly see images of people practising Falun Gong's slow-movement exercises freely around the world. They would see how the Tiananmen immolation incident, in which the Chinese government claimed that Falun Gong practitioners burned themselves alive, was actually fabricated. They might even see, if Lee's tape played long enough before it was stopped, evidence of the deadly torture that Falun Gong practitioners, by the tens of thousand, face inside China's jails.
But Lee never got to broadcast anything. The Chinese government had spied on him in America and he was arrested and beaten as soon as he got off the plane in China. Lee was put through a one-day sham trial and sentenced to three years in Nanjing Prison. There he remains, tortured and in ill health, forced to make Christmas tree lights and stare at brainwashing videos everyday. A U.S. citizen in twenty-first century China.
A criminal or a hero? Few would argue Martin Luther King was anything but hero; his personal story and his struggle for racial and social equality are well known. But King's actions, though peaceful, also broke many of the laws in his day, and he was arrested over 20 times.
In his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" King wrote, "One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." In the letter, King praised those who hid the Jews in Europe during World War II. At that time, the kind-hearted Christians who did so were considered criminals. Today they are remembered as heroes, the brave few whose sense of justice was strong enough to compel them to do what was right in spite of strong social pressure and real risk to their lives.
The Chinese who, like Charles Lee, attempt to override broadcast signals in China have taken a similar course. There is no room for dissent in China's media. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) directly controls the content in most of the media, and the privately-owned media is still afraid to touch certain issues, like Falun Gong.
Someone living in the middle of China, where there is no access to outside information and over half a million websites are blocked, could thus easily believe that Falun Gong is, like in China, banned all over the world, when the opposite is the case. They could easily turn a blind eye to the suffering of the tens of millions of their fellow countrymen who practise Falun Gong.
Since the 5th of March, 2002 several individuals have successfully broadcast videos over China's cable network, shocking and awakening the Chinese people with the facts. Many of these courageous people, like King, were arrested for breaking the "laws" that were allowing injustice to take place. Some, like Liu Chengjun, were tortured to death.
In Nazi Germany, Hitler and his propaganda adviser, Joseph Goebbels, manipulated state-run media to demonise the Jewish people, garnering support for their genocide and holding critics at bay. Former CCP leader Jiang Zemin and his propaganda advisor's have manipulated their state-run media to demonise Falun Gong with a similar intent. In Jiang's words, to "completely eradicate Falun Gong." Both propaganda efforts have taken the shared approach of "repeat a lie a thousand times and people will believe it to be the truth."
Two years ago this week, American Charles Lee sought to present the people of China with the truth - Falun Gong is a peaceful, spiritual practise being brutally persecuted in China.
Had such broadcasts taken place in Nazi Germany, how would people today view those who risked their lives to give a voice to the Jewish people amidst the whirlwind of propaganda engulfing them? Had a German-American travelled to Germany in 1939 to override Nazi broadcasts, would Americans fret about whether what he did was justified?
Actually, they probably would. From 1939 to 1945, the New York Times and other mainstream media buried the story of the Holocaust. The U.S. administration was late to come to terms with the slaughtering of Jews in Europe and denied them refuge in America.
The result is well known and is a mark on our history as well. It's not easy to learn from past mistakes and awaken to present realities.
People today applaud Mohandas Gandhi's action of deliberately breaking the British Salt-Law, we applaud King's marches, and future generations will sing the praise of the valiant Chinese who deliberately break unjust laws.
This January the 17th we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. From now on, let January the 22nd be known as "Charles Lee Day."
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