Born: January 25, 1952;

Died: August 14, 2020.

MY mother Yu Yu Williamson, who died at the age of 68 from blood cancer, was a dedicated human rights campaigner who fought for two decades to raise awareness of the persecution of religious and minority groups in China, including the imprisonment, torture and execution of Falun Gong, Uyghurs, House Christians and Tibetans.

Her tireless work to give people detained in China a voice helped to bring the shocking allegations of the Chinese government’s organ harvesting from labour camps to light, galvanising the Scottish Parliament to call for a ban on Scots travelling to China for organ transplants.

A true grassroots campaigner, her enduring passion to create change had her petitioning and gathering support on the streets of the UK’s city centres, organising seminars and film screenings at Scottish universities and schools, and educating journalists, politicians and human rights groups about violations of innocent people in China.

She played a pivotal role in bringing China allegations to the UK’s attention, namely of the illegal trade of organs taken from living prisoners of conscience in China’s labour camps, the majority of which are found to have come from practitioners of Falun Gong, a persecuted religious group.

In April 2013, she spurred her local MSP Bob Doris to hold a hearing at the Scottish Parliament. The seminal event, at which she spoke, invited Chinese surgeon Enver Tohti, former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia Pacific, David Kilgour, and international human rights lawyer David Matas to provide evidence of the scale of China’s organ harvesting trade, from which the country is said to make a profit of $1 billion every year.

The hearing led to a chain of events that resulted in the backing of a motion by nearly one-third of MSPs to stop UK citizens travelling to China for organ transplants. It was later described by Doris as “one of the most powerful events I have ever attended at Holyrood.”

Yu Yu’s driving force for bringing justice to Chinese people can be understood from her childhood. She often spoke of her life growing up in China as one of perpetual fear and distrust. Her story, like that of millions, was testimony to the brutality of the Chinese government.

Yu Yu was born in 1952, and was raised in Beijing, where her parents were high officials in China’s Liberation Army. In 1966, her world changed when Mao Zedong launched China into the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long period of political chaos and one of the bloodiest eras in modern history.

Like many in China at the time, she saw her family and community torn apart. Her mother, singled out by the Chinese Communist Party for a supposed anti-revolutionary comment, was imprisoned for seven years in solitary confinement, while her father was exiled to Inner Mongolia. Yu Yu and her four sisters, now labelled children of a “black family”, were left to fend for themselves.

At 17, Yu Yu was sent to the bitterly cold north of China, close to Russia’s border, where she spent many years working alongside farmers as part of the government’s Down To The Countryside Movement. She was one of 17 million youths decreed by Mao to be “educated from living in rural poverty”. Separated from their families with their schooling cut short, this cohort later became known as the Lost Generation.

In 1976, Mao died and the Cultural Revolution came to an end. This precipitated China opening up to the West; Yu Yu crossed the “Bamboo Curtain” and boarded a flight to London with hopes for a new life in the UK.

With access to a free press for the first time, she learnt the full extent of the Chinese government’s brutalities over the years. In 1989, news of Tiananmen Square shook the international media. The horrifying image of a single student facing a tank was one that would never leave Yu Yu.

Her life as a campaigner began in 1999 when China announced a ban on Falun Gong, a Buddhist-based spiritual movement that was growing in popularity, much to the Chinese government’s fears. Overnight, it became one of the largest persecuted groups in the country. Hundreds of thousands of practitioners were arrested, with many subjected to forced labour, torture and arbitrary execution. Numerous Falun Gong members detained in labour camps were also victims of organ harvesting.

Forfeiting her chance to ever return to her homeland, Yu Yu began speaking out about what was going on behind China’s closed doors. Despite mounting evidence, persuading those in power to hold China accountable took time and much work; it was what China human rights campaigners described as “the world’s inconvenient truth”.

Yu Yu’s enduring grassroots activism didn’t falter. She continued to set up her petition stand in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, every weekend, and became known by ministers and media for her formidable character and passionate work. Mr Doris described her as having an “effervescence and cheeriness that made it difficult to say no to her requests”.

She also helped people fleeing persecution in China to seek asylum in Scotland, visiting immigration centres, supporting case work, acting as interpreter and sending letters to the Government to secure their safety.

She delivered free-press Chinese newspapers to the Chinese community in Glasgow, so they too could discover what was really happening behind China’s heavily censored firewall. She was determined to help innocent people and spread the truth about China until the end, and was still dictating emails to politicians and providing quotes to journalists from her hospital bed.

Investigative journalist and China analyst Ethan Gutmann says: “At a bleak time when there was little light to be found in Westminster, Yu Yu stood up in Scotland and something happened. What she accomplished at Holyrood galvanised others. Yu Yu showed us what was possible.”

Yu Yu was also a loving wife and mother, who had unconditional adoration for her husband Dermot and daughters Paula and Emma.