By Eugene Smith
More than 500 people signed an online petition demanding the Durham Union Society withdraw its invitation to free speech advocate Anastasia Lin in the run-up to a debate on Friday night.
The debate motion was “This House sees China as a threat to the West,” and Ms Lin, a Chinese-Canadian actress, former Miss World contestant and human rights advocate, spoke in favour of the proposition.
The petition, which appears to have been created by a Chinese postgraduate at Durham University, argues that “we […] would love to hear different opinions and views from different people, but not from an extremist.”
The petition’s preamble goes on to state that Ms Lin “holds bias and hostile attitudes towards China,” and that “we respect her free speech right but her opinions and attacks on China are not only vicious but also lack evidence.”
As of midnight on Friday 10 February, the night on which the debate took place, the petition had been signed by 516 supporters.
The comments section of the petition’s webpage includes such remarks as: “It’s my duty to protect our beloved country from evil attack,” and one statement describing Ms Lin as a “[r]idiculous human rights activist”.
One Chinese student supportive of the petition, who wished to remain anonymous, told Palatinate they thought Ms Lin was “not very objective,” and that the petition shows the Chinese student community’s “true feelings”.
The suspicions of Ms Lin stem from the actress’ links with Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual practice banned by the country’s ruling Communist Party, whose supporters are allegedly subjected to mass human rights abuses perpetrated by the state. Falun Gong’s claim that thousands of supporters have been killed to supply China’s organ transplant industry, a claim that Ms Lin repeats, is extremely controversial and is fiercely denied by the authorities.
The petition comes after reports that the Chinese Embassy to the UK had also attempted to pressure the Union Society into dropping Ms Lin from its panel, asking the debate’s organisers to “take a second and think between this debating and the more grand background of UK-China relations”.
Despite such pressure, Ms Lin’s invitation was not revoked, and she participated in the debate alongside former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Chinese analyst Jonathan Fenby, and Ben Harris-Quinney of the conservative Bow Group think tank.
The motion was defeated by 116 votes to 91.
Photograph: Peter Bonnett