By NADIA MARIA SMITH
CS&T Staff Writer
ORELAND – For pro-life advocate Michael McMonagle, a trip to Beijing, China during the Olympics seemed the perfect opportunity to bring international attention to human rights violations by the Chinese government.
McMonagle, founder of the pro-life group Generation Life (based in Oreland) and a parishioner of St. Stanislaus in Lansdale, said he was prayerfully protesting in the city’s Tiananmen Square along with Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, a Presbyterian minister and director of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian Defense Coalition and Brandi Swindell, director of Generation Life in Boise, Idaho when they were taken into police custody and subsequently deported from the country on the eve of the official opening of the Olympics.
“We wanted to use the spotlight from the Olympics to make our point and challenge the world’s collective amnesia about what was going on … in the Tiananmen Square massacre,” said McMonagle, a native of the Roxborough section of Philadelphia.
On June 4, 1989, Chinese authorities used military force to suppress a student-led protest in Beijing’s central square. Protesters were calling for democracy and clean government in China. As reported by UCA News, an Asian Church news agency, and other news agencies in the area at the time, hundreds of the protesters were allegedly killed in order to suppress the protest.
To this day the Chinese government suppresses information about the protest and its aftermath, including ensuring that search engine Google’s mainland China web site blocks any information about the incident.
According to McMonagle, the Chinese government also censors information about other human rights abuses McMonagle was protesting, including China’s forced abortion policy and victimization of women, the suppression of religious freedom and the persecution of Christians, Tibetan Buddhist monks and followers of the spiritual practice known as Falun Gong.
In their pre-Olympic games protest, McMonagle, Rev. Mahoney and Swindell unfurled a banner that read “Jesus Christ is King” – a reference to Cardinal Ignatius Kung, the prelate of the underground Catholic Church in China who, when arrested in 1955, said, “Long live Christ the King.”
The Chinese government officially recognizes what it terms a “patriotic association” of Chinese Catholics in the country, not the official Roman Catholic Church, which continues to operate in secret.
The three Americans were detained by police after their protest, but released 30 minutes later and told they could return to the square without any banners.
“We told them we’d come back at 11 a.m. the next day to pray and to do a press conference,” McMonagle said.
According to McMonagle they were followed by police officers after they were released. In spite of that, they returned to the square. But as soon as the trio began speaking to the foreign press, the police intervened, pushing the press to the side and re-arresting McMonagle and his companions.
“We have a newfound respect for the press in China,” McMonagle said. “They were pushed to the ground and the police tried to confiscate their equipment. The foreign press uses some native Chinese people, who put themselves at risk. I was told by a member of the press that there would be a crackdown on all press after the Olympics.”
During the three-hour interrogation, McMonagle and his companions were asked a series of questions in an effort to determine if they were being assisted by any Chinese citizens.
At that time they spoke about the sanctity of life, the work and ministry of Generation Life, and about Jesus Christ and the Gospel, McMonagle said.
Police officials informed them that they had violated Chinese security and disturbed public order and would have to pay $2,000 to be deported from the country. They refused.
“Finally we said, ‘put us in jail if you have to.’ Then the man in charge said something harshly in Chinese while he pointed to us, but we didn’t understand. Then they put us in a van and we thought we were going to jail,” he said.
Instead they were taken to the airport for immediate deportation.
But McMonagle said the trip was successful. They made contact with a religious order that runs an underground shelter for women fleeing forced abortions, and with a Protestant missionary who raises funds to help Chinese families pay the $1,500 fine for having more than one child.
McMonagle plans to raise funds to assist both efforts.
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at email@example.com or (215) 965-4614.