You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.
- Rosa Parks, American civil rights activist
I have deeply underestimated the amazing courage of democracy and human rights advocates in China, who stand up fearlessly to overwhelming repression and heartless punishment.
That understanding came last week, when I received three death threats by e-mail over Tuesday's column outlining the Chinese government's crackdown on activists leading up to the Beijing Olympic Games in August.
The death threats, which are under investigation by the Vancouver Police Department, were the culmination of a series of increasingly vicious and sometimes stunningly obscene e-mails received following the column.
What prompted such vitriol? My suggestion that perhaps boycotting China, not just the Olympics, would be an appropriate response to the violent Chinese military repression in Tibet, ongoing attempts to denounce the Dalai Lama, increasing human rights violations, efforts to isolate Taiwan and attacks on Falun Gong practitioners.
But if it's offensive to threaten me for simply being an outspoken columnist in Canada, what do you call what happens daily to Chinese citizens who attempt to oppose a dictatorship?
Think about Ye Guozhu, a housing rights advocate serving a four-year jail term because he applied for permission to hold a demonstration against forced evictions and demolition of property in Beijing to make way for Olympic construction.
Amnesty International reports that Ye Guozhu was convicted of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" after his restaurant and home were seized without compensation.
Amnesty says Ye is reported to have been tortured by being suspended from the ceiling by the arms and beaten by police before his trial. He was also beaten with electro-shock batons in Chaobai prison, Beijing.
Ye was then sent twice to Qingyuan prison for periods of "discipline", most recently in February 2007 for 10 months, apparently for trying to appeal his conviction. His son and brother were also arrested on suspicion of "inciting subversion,"
Think about Hu Jia, a Chinese dissident who fights for human rights and defends AIDS patients, displaced farmers and women opposing forced sterilization. Hu got three and a half years in jail for "inciting subversion of state power."
Ye Guozhu and Hu Jia are true heroes because they are not fearful about doing what is right, as Rosa Parks said.
It is an honour for me to write about their terrible treatment by the Chinese government and to encourage readers to voice their opposition through groups like Amnesty International. And I will not be silenced by threats.
The Chinese people deserve to live in a society where people like Ye Guozhu and Hu Jia are celebrated, not jailed and tortured. A great nation and culture will only flourish with democracy.