As activists worldwide are stepping up their criticism of China in the run-up to this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, the New Haven Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Monday night to approve street closures for an April 26 protest of China’s alleged human-rights violations that will temporarily shut down several streets around the New Haven Green.
The protest — which will involve a rally on the Green until the procession with the mock Olympic torch arrives — is meant to highlight opposition to China’s reported human-rights violations in Tibet and Darfur, as well as alleged violence toward the religious minority group Falun Gong.
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Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark, who introduced the resolution at last night’s meeting, said she has seen overwhelming support from the community for the Human Rights Torch Relay, a global human-rights group that has carried a flame from Athens, Greece through Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the United States since August 2007. The Human Rights Torch, which the group carries, will stop in Providence, R.I., Portsmouth, N.H., and Portland, Maine before arriving in New Haven.
“It’s all very fascinating, this whole business with China and the Tibetans,” Clark said in reference to recent uprisings in the Tibetan region of China. “I think people here are very sympathetic to this cause.”
Clark said that when she was first contacted about the possibility of a rally by Yale’s Falun Gong Club — which is coordinating with Human Rights Torch Relay to organize the protest — she was hesitant about supporting the idea because it would require closing Chapel Street between York and College streets, which could harm local businesses.
But once she discovered that the procession would last only 15 minutes and realized it would not be necessary to close off the streets for the entire afternoon, Clark said she was more confident in her ability to win the blessing of local business owners.
Clark said all the Chapel St. merchants she spoke with were “delighted” by the prospect of the Human Rights Torch procession.
After Clark pitched the proposal — passage required a vote by the full board because street closures were involved — Ward 14 Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale insisted that the aldermen conduct a roll-call vote, the only one in a night that featured quick approvals of commissioner appointments. All 30 aldermen voted to approve the street closures.
Jianjiang Ye, an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine who is involved in efforts to raise awareness of China’s human-rights record, said after the meeting that the leaders of his country made a promise to improve their human-rights reputation before the 2008 Olympics. But by continuing to mistreat religions groups and human-rights lawyers, the Chinese government has broken that promise, he said.
“The Olympics and human-rights violations should not exist in the same place,” Ye said. “We can use this chance to make China a better place.”
Ye said he expects anywhere from 100 to 150 Yale students and New Haven residents to attend the rally, which will feature speeches and a Chinese marching band.
“The beauty of this country is that people here are not selfish,” Ye said. “They not only enjoy freedom here, but they also support freedom in China.”
Also at Monday’s meeting, the Board of Aldermen presented honorary citations to the Hill Regional Career High School girl’s basketball team for its victory at the state championship, as well as to Southern Connecticut University’s Environmental Futurists Club for its work to improve the pond at Beaver Pond Park.
The Board of Aldermen will next meet April 22.