UN bans China group after accusation of spying on Montreal woman at UN

Ti-Anna Wang holds a photo of her father Wang Bingzhang, prior to testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, Dec. 5, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Susan Walsh

Ti-Anna Wang holds a photo of her father Wang Bingzhang, prior to testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, Dec. 5, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Susan Walsh

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The United Nations has stripped the credentials of a man representing a Chinese organization after he was accused of spying on a Montreal woman whose father is a political prisoner in China.

The incident occurred within the chamber of the United Nations Human Rights Council, one day after Ti-Anna Wang, 24, of Montreal made an impassioned plea for the freedom of her father, Dr. Wang Bingzhang, who was given a life sentence in 2002 after trying to foster democracy in China.

On Wednesday, the day after Wang’s address, a man representing a Chinese non-governmental organization started taking close-up pictures of her and her computer screen while seated behind her.

The man was questioned by UN security staff, who asked that the images be deleted from his camera.

“We decided to remove the badge of the individual who was photographing Ms. Wang,” council spokesman Rolando Gomez said in an interview Friday from Geneva.

“His photographing of Ms. Wang was immediately spotted. It violates UN rules. … More importantly, he was taking a close-up of her and her computer, which was deemed not only inappropriate but was perceived as intimidation.”

In a separate interview Friday from France, where she was in transit to Montreal, Wang said she was shocked but not surprised by the actions of the man seated behind her.

“I stared at him. I was so shocked that he was engaging in that kind of — I don’t know what you’d call it — lowly activity,” said Wang.

“I thought it was not very savvy of them, the way they did it. It seemed very amateurish, amateur espionage activity in a sense.”

Wang applauded Canada for being the only country to recommend the release of Chinese prisoners in the council’s report on China, which was formally adopted this week.

“We support her fight for a China that respects the cause of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” said Rick Roth, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

Roth said Baird was “disappointed” that Canada was not one of the several countries that rose to defend Wang’s right to speak when China tried to stop her at the council earlier this week. That’s why Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett, personally invited Wang to attend an Office of Religious Freedom workshop next week.

“This will give her the opportunity to speak to human-rights experts and government officials directly about her experiences and those of her father,” Roth said.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of a letter from Canada’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva to the council expressing the country’s “serious concern regarding the alleged intimidation” of a Canadian national.

“The Government of Canada is extremely troubled by this case — which we view as an act of potential intimidation against Ms. Wang,” wrote envoy Elissa Golberg.

The non-governmental agency, UN Watch, which sponsored Wang’s appearance before the council accused the Chinese agency of being in cahoots with the Chinese government.

“The Chinese NGO in question is known for making statements at the UN identical to those of the Chinese government. We consider this incident to be an act of deliberate intimidation in reprisal against our delegate for her co-operation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms,” wrote UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

Gomez said the UN has also raised the matter with the Chinese delegation.

“Beyond that, the matter still needs to be discussed between the president (of the council) and the Chinese delegation here. The Human Rights Council cannot tolerate any acts of harassment, intimidation, or those to be perceived as such.”

Wang said she remains hopeful that her father will one day be released, despite China’s hard line.

But his long solitary detention has taken a toll on her father’s mental state, she said.

His moods run the full spectrum during the monthly, 30-minute visits that he is allowed.

“When we do get to see him, he is so emotional, he’s so fragile.”

Wang was barred a year ago from visiting her father because of her activism. She knows he is no longer receiving her letters because when she receives his, he isn’t aware of the updates she has sent him about her life.

But Wang said she will not back down from trying to help her father.

“He’s in solitary confinement for seemingly life now. So if we don’t do anything, nothing’s going to change.”

© The Canadian Press, 2014