U.S. President Barack Obama came under increasing pressure on Tuesday to publicly speak out against Beijing's harsh treatment of political and religious dissidents during a state visit this week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Dissidents representing China's minority Uighurs, Tibetans, imprisoned democracy advocates and opponents of forced abortion all urged Obama to address their concerns both publicly and privately during Hu's four-day state visit, which began on Tuesday evening.
Congressman Chris Smith, who chairs a House of Representatives panel on human rights, said it would be almost unthinkable for a Nobel Peace laureate like Obama to meet with a political leader responsible for jailing another laureate and not demand publicly for their fellow laureate's release.
The winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, writer and rights activist Liu Xiaobo, is imprisoned in China. His wife was detained and denied permission to attend the Nobel ceremony on his behalf and is still in custody, dissidents say.
I truly hope that in the next few days, President Obama lives up to the award he received in '09, said Smith, who organized a news conference for Chinese rights advocates.
Obama has had a mixed relationship with human rights advocates and other traditionally liberal groups that have been generally supportive of his agenda.
He irritated some by putting off a 2009 White House meeting with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, in a move to gain favor with China. He has failed to fulfill other pledges important to rights advocates, like closing the prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo, Cuba.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama would raise his direct concerns on the issues of human rights when he meets with Hu, who will be the first Chinese president to have a White House dinner in his honor in 13 years.
Gibbs defended the dinner with Hu, saying Obama believed it was important to put himself in forums that would allow him to discuss issues like human rights directly with those making the decisions.
But U.S. lawmakers and Chinese dissidents underscored the importance of Obama speaking publicly and not just privately about the issue.
I urge President Obama to raise the issues of human rights and religious freedom, not just behind closed doors, but in his public statements as well, said Representative Frank Wolf, another rights advocate in Congress.
GAO'S RELEASE SOUGHT
Geng He, the wife of detained human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, appealed for Obama to seek the release of her husband, saying her children had been terribly affected by his absence and noting that Obama has written about the pain of growing up without his father.
He, whose husband was targeted by authorities after taking on controversial human rights cases, urged Obama to ask Hu to release Gao and let him come to the United States and unite with our family.
Ngawang Sangdrol, who was held as a political prisoner by China for supporting Tibetan independence, spoke of being beaten with iron rods and water hoses and shocked with an electric prod that made her body shake uncontrollably.
She said Hu presided over a crackdown on the Tibet and martial law when he was the Chinese leader of the Tibetan autonomous region in the 1980s.
Ngawang, who credits international pressure for securing her release while serving a 21-year prison term, urged Obama and the free world to press China on human rights, saying from her experience it was very helpful.
Chai Ling, who was a student leader at the Tiananmen Square massacre, sharply condemned China's population control policies, which she said lead to 35,000 forced or coerced abortions every day.
It is a Tiananmen Square massacre happening every hour, she said.
Most Chinese are barred from having more than a single child. The policy is aimed at controlling China's 1.3 billion population, but critics say it has resulted in forced abortions and sterilizations and a widening gender gap that has contributed to international sex trafficking.
Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, said, The Chinese forced abortion policy is systematic, institutionalized violence against women.