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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Russia bans human rights campaigner

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David Matas

WINNIPEG — Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Matas, one of the world’s leading human rights campaigners, has been banned from Russia because a book he co-wrote with former MP David Kilgour exposing China’s abuse of Falun Gong members has been condemned as “extremist literature.”

The ban was put into effect in 2008, yet neither Matas nor Kilgour were informed of the situation. Matas only found out when he was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference Kyiv, Ukraine, last spring on Internet hate speech. Matas was quite surprised when a Russian participant informed him that his book on the Falun Gong was included on a list of books that had been banned in Russia.

The Falun Gong is a Chinese grassroots spiritual group that China’s Communist government considers a threat, Matas said, because the group is independent of the Communist party. Falun Gong was banned in China in 1999 and thousands of its adherents have been jailed and murdered, with the government removing their organs for transplants.

Matas and Kilgour wrote reports on the persecution of Falun Gong members and the theft of their organs in two reports in 2006 and 2007 and published their book, Bloody Harvest, in 2009. The earlier reports were translated into Russian and distributed in the country. A local court in Krasnodar in the east banned the reports in 2008 on the grounds that they might create a negative image of China.

 “We weren’t notified at all, and we played no part in the legal procedure,” Matas said.

As to why a negative report on China should be banned in Russia, Matas said that he can’t explain the Russian thinking.  “I don’t think the Russians can explain themselves,” he said. “It may be a matter of authoritarian solidarity. Non-democratic governments tend to stick together.”

Matas said Russian human rights and democracy activists appealed the ban, with Matas and Kilgour filing a statement for the appeal. Last month, a higher court in the Krasnodar region upheld the ban.

 “I am not sure if our statement was read out in court,” Matas said. ”The next step will be to appeal to a higher court in Moscow and possibly to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Matas has also asked the Harper government to protest the ban.

At the Kyiv conference last spring, Matas was invited to speak in Russia in 2012, but that is not going to be possible unless the ban is lifted. 

“The people who will be disadvantaged by this are the Russian people,” Matas said. “Without freedom of speech, they will not have access to all that is going on in the world.”

Claude Rochon, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, said the department is looking into the matter. “Canada takes matters of freedom of expression very seriously,” she said. “The promotion of Canadian values features prominently in our ongoing dialogue with the Russian authorities.”

Officials at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa were unavailable for comment last week, as the embassy was closed for the holidays.

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