Czech NGOs unite to highlight human rights situation in China

Source: Radio Prague / By Ian Willoughby /

Timed to coincide with the visit of President Xi Jinping to Prague, a group of Czech NGOs – including Forum 2000, Amnesty International and Tibetan rights groups – have just launched the Information Centre for Democracy and Human Rights in China. Jakub Klepal, the head of Forum 2000, told me the Centre had been set up in response to a shift in Czech foreign policy toward closer relations with China in the last couple of years.

“If this is happening then it definitely shouldn’t happen without public discussion and the thorough provision of information to the public.
“People should essentially know what China is all about and what the human rights situation in China is.”
What will the Centre actually do? I understand you don’t have a centre, a place, that people can visit?
“There isn’t a building or a room that would be the Centre. The Centre essentially works as a network of existing NGOs, existing institutions, cultural institutions, public institutions that have their own facilities, their own programmes and projects.
“We would like to develop all of these programmes and projects and take advantage of all these existing facilities and infrastructure to raise the level of public discussion about the situation in China and our relationship with China and to provide more information through discussions, lectures and round tables.
“Also to use different means, maybe cultural means – doing exhibitions and other sorts of cultural events that would help the Czech public understand better what is going on in China and what our relationship with China means.”

The idea for this network could be seen as part of the legacy of Václav Havel, who was of course critical of China’s human rights record. And many people in the human rights demonstrations on Tuesday were associates of Havel’s. But hasn’t his worldview been rather marginalized in the Czech Republic? Isn’t it something of a thing of the past?

“Well, it has been sidelined, given the results in the last couple of elections. That is definitely true.
“The current president, Mr. Zeman, is not a representative of Václav Havel’s legacy, in foreign policy as well as some other policy areas.
“I don’t think that’s as true concerning the current government. I think the current government is a bit split on this, even internally.

“I think Havel’s legacy has been put aside a little bit, given the political mood and the electoral results, but it is definitely not gone.
“There are many people in this country who still hold that legacy in very high esteem. I think it’s also ingrained in many institutions.
“So I think definitely Václav Havel’s legacy is still here, although it’s not the official line at the moment.”