Beyond the Great Firewall: Brave Voices of Dissent in China – Panel Opening with Brandon Silver

Brandon Silver, Director of Policy and Projects at the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, delivers introductory remarks as moderator for the Beyond the Great Firewall: Brave Voices of Dissent in China panel at the 2024 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for his prepared remarks.

Prepared Remarks:

Thank you all for being here today, and welcome to the first panel discussion: Beyond the Great Firewall: Brave Voices of Dissent in China.

We have with us Abduweli Ayup of the Uyghur community, Chemi Lhamo of the Tibetan community, and Rei Xia of the pro-democracy movement. Each of them represent millions of others, giving a voice to the voiceless, those deprived of their right to freedom of expression, those deprived of their very right to exist in China today.

As the late great Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo put it: “Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the
mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.”

Our brave panelists here today have experienced firsthand how their communities have been deprived of their languages, of their cultural expression, or of the ability to speak at all, where, as Hillel said, holding a blank piece of paper is grounds for criminalization, torture, and arbitrary arrest. And make no mistake, what is  happening to them in China affects all of us, not only as an attack on our shared humanity, but these laws are now being given extraterritorial application. So any of you today in this room can be subject to investigation, to arrest, if you go to China, simply for  having attended this panel under Hong Kong’s new security laws. These acts of state repression are being extended by the long arm of the state security services. Indeed, we see right now today, Hong Kong media freedom champion Jimmy Lai continues to languish in unjust imprisonement in Hong Kong.

Dr. Wang Bingzhang, whose family is Canadian and whose daughter Tianna was a speaker at the Summit, was kidnapped while traveling and brought back to China, where he was sentenced
to life imprisonment in solitary confinement, where he still languishes today.

In my home country of Canada, many Canadians of Chinese origin, or of any origin China wants to erase, are being harassed, intimidated, and violently attacked by the Chinese Communist
Party on Canadian soil with impunity.

As our friend Vladimir Kara-Murza, the imprisoned Russian Democrat Opposition Leader used to often say, including at this podium: Internal repression inevitably leads to external aggression.

We have seen that with Russia, and now we are seeing it unfold with China before our eyes.

And so we must listen to the testimony of these speakers, and act upon it. If we do not defend the human rights defenders, and challenge these trends for the sake of our common humanity, then our democracies and fundamental freedoms around the world will be at risk.

But there is also hope. Amidst Uyghurs being forced into internment camps and children into boarding schools, while Tibetan monks are being disappeared and Tibet is ranked the most
unfree place on earth, and while activists on the streets of Shanghai are being unjustly imprisoned, dissidents keep fighting for freedom.

If freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights and our common humanity as Liu Xiaobo said, then by speaking out beyond the great firewall of China, our brave panelists are helping to build a better future for us all, one where truth and democracy prevails, and where Tibetans, Uyghurs and China can be free.

So with that I want to invite Abduweli Ayup to the podium. Born in Kashgar in 1973, Ayup is a Uyghur activist who was jailed and tortured for opening schools to teach the uyghur language.
After 15 months of detention and torture, Ayup refused to make a false confession, and fled with his family to Turkey. In 2016, Ayup founded the non-profit Uyghur Hjelp to investigate and document the plight of Uyghurs and advocate for their cause, and continued his work to protect and promote the Uyghur language.

Chemi Lhamo is a multiple award winning Activist and advocate for the Tibetan people and for a free Tibet. A Tibetan-Canadian, Chemi was President of the University of Toronto Scarborough Student Union, where she was targeted by pro-China movements for her leadership, and which I recall was a national news story at the time, demonstrating Chinese Communist Party influence and interference eroding our democracy. Chemi has since risen to become a leading global human rights activist, elected to the Leadership Council of the World Movement for Democracy and serving as campaign director for Students for Free Tibet. Anywhere in the world Xi Xinping might visit, Chemi is always there to welcome him with a protest for a free tibet.

Rei Xia is a leader in the white paper protest movement. In November 2022, she was captured and briefly detained by police after holding up a blank sign on Shanghai Street as part of the
White Paper movement. After her release, she bravely shared her experiences on Twitter and was also a voice for other protesters. On December 5, 2022, she was arrested on false charges of spreading rumors, after exposing the violent tactics and forced searches by the Tianlin Road Police Station against peaceful protesters in Shanghai. She was held in solitary confinement at the Xuhui District Detention Center for 37 days. On April 4, 2023, she was taken to the Shanghai Jingwei Forced Identification and Detention Center for the same case, and
subsequently faced harassment and forced eviction by the police multiple times. On November 16, 2023, she was yet again detained for 28 days in the Huangpu District Detention Center on charges of provocation and causing disturbances and was severely tortured. In early 2024, Xia escaped from China and began her life in exile, and became a voice for human rights in china and exposing the atrocities of the Chinese Communist Party


Speakers and Participants


Human Rights

Arrested for Holding a Blank Paper with Rei Xia

Chinese dissenter, human rights activist, and former political prisoner Rei Xia addresses the 16th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for her remarks. Full Remarks: Thank you all.  Ladies and gentlemen, imagine one day you wake up and realize that you’ve turned into a caterpillar,

Uyghur Persecution

Disappeared by China with Rayhan Asat

Rayhan Asat, Uighur activist and attorney and sister of Ekpar Asat who was abducted by Chinese authorities, addresses the 13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. On the disappearance of her brother Epkar: “Unfortunately, [my brother] was born into

Uyghur Persecution

My Missing Father with Jewher Ilham

Jewher Ilham, rights activist and daughter of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti now serving a life-sentence in Chinese prison for working to bridge the gap between the Uyghurs and the Han Chinese, addresses the 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy — see quotes below, followed by full prepared