Long Live the Freedom Fighters with Yang Jianli

Yang Jianli, President of Initiatives for China and former political prisoner, addresses the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracysee below for his remarks.

Full Remarks

Good morning, dear friends.

In 2016, on this very stage, I said, “Long live the troublemakers.” Today, I want to say, “Long live the freedom fighters.”

Exactly one week ago, the Chinese government sentenced my friend and a prominent human rights defender, Guo Feixiong, to 8 years in prison. His “crime” was publicly appealing to China’s leadership for permission to leave China to go to the United States to spend the last minutes with his dying wife. I leave to his son Peter to tell the story of his father and his family. 

One month earlier, the Chinese government handed down to another two friends, two prominent leaders of China’s citizen movement, Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, prison sentences of 14 and 12 years, respectively. Their “crime” was a private meeting and a public statement criticizing Xi Jinping’s Covid policy.  

These three cases are but the tip of the iceberg of the Chinese Communist Party’s, the CCP’s, persecution of the people of China. We have lost count of the numbers of people languishing in China’s prisons for “crimes” of exercising basic rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Indeed, human rights violations have skyrocketed in China since Xi Jinping came to power. Under his rule, China continues to leave large fingerprints on the canvas of human events. Regarding human rights, these fingerprints place China at the scene of countless activities, both domestic and international, all thoroughly outside of the norm of a civilized, responsible world power, it so desperately claims to be. 

To review China’s despicable human rights record, we need look no further than the communities that my fellow panelists represent today. 

Tibet faces new and worsening challenges from the CCP’s repressive rule. Threats to Tibet’s linguistic, religious, and cultural heritage have increased staggeringly in recent years. Now, as an example, an estimated 80 percent of all children in Tibet are separated from their families and educated in a massive system of colonial boarding schools. This cultural genocide is a deeply troubling manifestation of the CCP’s ongoing program of forced assimilation of ethnic and religious minority groups.  

In 2019, sixty years after Tibet, an autonomy under the 1951 forced agreement of “one country, two systems,” was fully colonized by Communist China. Hong Kong, another autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework, was to be plunged under the national security law. It has practically lost its freedom, the rule of law, and civic culture, becoming another Shanghai in the political sense. This is a political genocide. 

Millions of Uyghurs are suffering from unspeakable atrocities at the hands of the CCP. This includes forced sterilization of young women, enforced separation of families and placement of children in state orphanages, and mass incarceration of more than one million people since 2017 in detention centers and forced labor camps. Uyghurs are also being transferred to factories in China proper and used as modern-day slaves.  

The case for genocide against the Uyghur people has been made through documentation of evidence by credible international human rights and academic institutions, as well as from numerous profoundly intimate and chilling first-person accounts. Today, we will hear one of them.  

Now, I want to return to the three imprisoned democracy leaders mentioned at the beginning. For each of them, the current incarceration is not their first.   

For Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, this is the second time. For Guo Feixiong, Peter’s father, this is the third imprisonment. This demonstrates that despite the extreme darkness, many in China have continued their fight for a brighter China. But their efforts and their sacrifices are often under-appreciated, with many observers concluding that China will remain authoritarian indefinitely. But the perseverance and determination demonstrated by these brave freedom fighters and the dramatic White Paper Movement of late last year have shown that change is possible.  

That change, however, requires international focus and international support for the courageous people who struggle and demand freedom and democracy on a daily basis.  

Thank you for providing us the opportunity to speak truth to power. Indeed, as freedom-loving individuals, organizations and countries develop their strategies and policies with regard to engagement with China, they should listen to the people, who share their values, the same values. Not only that, but also continue fighting on the front line for these values. 

Now, let’s hear our extraordinary speakers. Let me begin with Peter. 

Speakers and Participants

Yang Jianli

Chinese dissident, former political prisoner, Tiananmen Square massacre survivor and President of Initiatives for China


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