The Epoch Times: Global Human Rights Torch Relay Kicks Off in Athens

The Goddess of Justice makes her way through the crowd onto the stage at the Human Rights Torch Relay opening ceremony on the evening of August 9. (Jan Jekielek/The Epoch Times)
ATHENS—Syntagma Square, in front of the Hellenic Parliament buildings, August 9, 2007. As dusk sets in, people from all walks of life, from all over the world, gather together in a circle in front of a podium, holding up flags of their home countries.

This is no celebration, however. There are banners too with strong statements: "Human Rights Abuse Cannot Co-exist with Beijing Olympics," reads one. "Stop Harvesting Organs From Living Humans," reads another. Another says in partial rhyme, "Olympic Games But No Olympic Shame."

They are here to support the official launch of the Human Rights Torch Relay, an initiative led by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China (CIPFG).

Some hours earlier, Human Rights Torch Relay organizers held a press conference to explain their goals: To use the threat of a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics to pressure Beijing into respecting the basic human rights of China's people.

But now, ancient Greek goddesses dance in the middle of the circle, symbolizing the upright principles of the Olympic Games. Streams of tourists, attracted by the peacefulness of the scene, mix into the ranks of the supporters.

Gently, Giorgos Koutogiannis starts strumming his guitar, a sound well known throughout Greece. As the music gains momentum, in the heart of Greece, in the evening shade of Syntagma's trees, the scene evokes the presence of the original, pristine Olympic spirit. The Global Human Rights Torch Relay Ceremony has begun.

Human Rights Torch Relay supporters take a minute of silence during the ceremony on August 9 to respect those persecuted in China, at the urging of Olympian Martin Rubenis. (Jan Jekielek/The Epoch Times)
Leading CIPFG member and Secretary-General of Interfaith International, Dr. Charles Graves, gives the first speech. CIPFG is a non-governmental organisation consisting of politicians, lawyers, organizations and delegations from Europe, Asia, North America and Australasia. It was established in 2006 to investigate human rights abuses perpetrated against Falun Gong—a spiritual discipline targeted for brutal persecution by the Chinese communist regime since 1999, arguably due to its popularity and its belief in traditional values.

More people join in to listen as Graves gives an account of the persecution by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against the Falun Gong spiritual movement. There is applause as he iterates CIPFG's demands:

First, stop the persecution of Falun Gong immediately and release all practitioners incarcerated for their faith. Second, stop the persecution of friends, supporters and defence lawyers of Falun Gong practitioners, including Gao Zhisheng and Li Hong. Third, hold discussions with CIPFG to arrange details of the opening up of labour camps, prisons, hospitals and related secretive facilities for inspection by CIPFG independent investigators.

This is the tone of the evening. There is a statement from U.K. Baroness Caroline Cox, calling out to the world to take a much harder line against the Chinese communist regime. A video titled, The Evil Which Has Never [until now] Been Seen on Earth, is played, documenting David Kilgour's and David Matas' independent investigation into state-run organ harvesting in China.

Austrian soprano Melanie Fleck from the European Choir "Coming For You" sings the "Dove Song". It tells the story of how the Olympic flame was lit on mount Olympus, uniting the virtues of friendship, glory, contribution and cooperation. Life in the mortal world rejoices as it embraces peace, justice, human rights and freedom.

Yet how can one talk about these values when looking at Beijing, in a country where for the last 50 years people have been trembling with fear under the red flag, the presenters ask?

"Eighty million skeletons pave the prosperous road; Tears of blood built the palace of grandeur," continue the words of the song. Something about the Games needs some serious servicing, the song is saying. Fleck's clear voice rings in the night.

Another noted guest is Fadu, a pretty girl of seven who lives in Australia. Fadu lost her father when she was a baby; tortured to death by the Chinese regime. It took Fadu's mother several months to find out that his lifeless body had been found in a shed in the suburbs.

Since escaping to Australia, Fadu and her mother have been travelling the world to bring a message of hope to mankind. People cheer as she opens a basket to release a flock of peace doves, but some of them are obviously unwilling to leave. One stays perched on a banner on the stage.

Quickly, a tall, athletic man takes the microphone. He is Martin Rubenis, the luge champion from Riga, Latvia. As a top athlete, he shares his understanding of the Olympic spirit, and how we as humans can uphold its beautiful message of high moral standards by denying the Chinese communist regime the right to tamper with it.

The square turns silent as he asks a minute of silence to "dignify the 100 million [of Falun Gong followers] whose lives were blown away [ruined] by the evil nature of the Chinese Communist Party, and reflect on what is going to happen next if we continue to look helplessly at the ongoing situation."

Hon. David Kilgour's amusing attempt to pronounce a Greek expression is followed by a most solemn discourse. The former Canadian Secretary of State quotes from a letter signed by a group of noted writers and scholars in China that has been circulating. It calls for seven initiatives that could make China's Olympic dream a reality.

In particular they ask that the Chinese communist regime declare amnesty for all prisoners of conscience; they also propose that the Beijing 2008 official Olympic slogan be modified to, "One World, One Dream, and Universal Human Rights."

A particularly strong-worded speech from Chinese dissident Pan Qing, a leader in the National Alliance of Defending Human Rights and Resisting Violence, ensues. In a loud voice he exclaims: "Human Rights, yes! Olympic Games, no!"

Next, a video clip is played about compassion and hope amidst grim persecution, showcasing images of Chinese resistance and overseas support.

Giorgos Koutogiannis gives one final demonstration of his famous guitar skills. Then, suddenly, the melody starts to soften, and the three Goddesses of Freedom, Justice and Peace come onto stage. Under their guidance, Nine Torches of Human Rights are led in. The theme music of the Torch Relay crescendos.

Throughout the crowd, people are seen hugging each other, tourists, police officers, organizers ... and so the evening ends. Organizers say that the torch will now go to over 100 cities in more than 35 countries, and they expect many more cities to sign-on as the year progresses. They say they have quite a hope that the Human Rights Torch will go to China too in a year's time.

Additional reporting by Jan Jekielek

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