Wednesday :: Feb 13, 2008

The Potemkin Village Olympics

by Turkana

China wants very badly for the world to see its Olympics as a model of peace, joy, and efficiency. In fact, they want that so badly that they're going to great lengths to ensure it happens. As Human Rights Watch reports:

With just six months to go before the Olympics open in Beijing on August 8, a systematic crackdown on dissent has significantly worsened respect for fundamental rights in China, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Beijing has given virtually no signs that it intends to keep the promises made to the international community in exchange for hosting the Games,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “On the contrary, we have witnessed a systematic effort to silence, suppress and repress Chinese citizens who are trying to push the government into greater respect for fundamental rights.”

Human Rights Watch pointed to a growing pattern of using loosely defined subversion charges to suppress dissidents and activists ahead of the Games. On February 4, the writer Lü Gengsong was sentenced to four years in prison for “inciting subversion against state power,” becoming the sixth high profile dissident in less than a year to be arrested or sentenced under these charges.

Call it the Potemkin Village Olympics.

In addition to the sharp deterioration of the situation of human rights defenders and dissidents, Human Rights Watch also noted a host of serious and uncorrected problems linked to the preparation of the Games, including forced evictions, land seizures, suppression of petitioners, closure of migrant children schools, heightened internet censorship, and the use of “hard-strike” anti-crime campaigns to prepare the eviction from Beijing of undocumented rural migrant workers, beggars, vagrants, and sex workers.

The international community could speak out.

“Repression will only increase through the opening of the Games unless foreign governments, the International Olympic Committee, and national Olympic committees make it clear to China that such abuses are a threat to the success of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing,” Richardson said. “International silence in the face of these Olympics-related human rights violations is tantamount to giving the Chinese government a green light to intensify its pre-Olympic crackdown.”

And speaking of international silence, Great Britain has decided to take a bold and daring stance. As reported by the International Herald Tribune:

The British Olympic Association confirmed Sunday any athlete who competes at the Games must sign a contract that for the first time includes a clause pledging not to make politically sensitive remarks or gestures while in China, at the risk being sent home.

Never mind that Section 51 of the International Olympic Committee charter already contains language barring competitors from engaging in any "kind of demonstration, or political, religious or racial propaganda in the Olympic sites, venues or other areas." The muckety-mucks running Britain - and perhaps Belgium, which put their athletes on notice last month - appear so intent on cutting trade deals with China that they've effectively signed away their athletes' free-speech rights.

So here's a few other touchy subjects you might not read or hear much about in British newspapers or on TV come August: the host government's sketchy record on human rights; its brutal repression of Tibet and inaction in Darfur; its continuing crackdown on freedom of speech and the press; and maybe even whether the Peking duck is better in Soho than Beijing.

To his credit, the heir to Britain's throne is doing better than the BOA.

Rather than fight temptation, Prince Charles has already said he'll be completely clothed and far away. The heir to the British throne announced last month he's skipping the Olympics to show support for Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

And Steven Spielberg is also to be commended, as explained in this Guardian article:

Steven Spielberg has resigned as artistic adviser to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, in protest at China's failure to distance itself from genocide and human rights abuses in Darfur.

The Oscar-winning director, who had been working since last year to help choreograph the games' opening ceremony, had previously warned Beijing that he would withdraw unless it did more to distance itself from the violence.

In a statement released last night, the director said: "I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual. At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur."

Hollywood stars have been at the forefront of an international campaign linking China to violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, saying that money and weapons from Beijing have helped fuel a conflict which has claimed 200,000 lives and forced 2.5 million people from their homes.

And this Guardian article has China's response:

But the Chinese embassy in Washington said attempts to connect Darfur with the Beijing games goes against the Olympic spirit. "As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organisations and individuals to link the two as one," it said in a statement.

However, campaigners and rebel groups in Darfur praised Spielberg's move. "This will send a message to other countries, other individuals and athletes, who haven't taken a strong stance on Darfur up to now," a spokesman for the Sudanese opposition Justice and Equality Movement told Reuters.

"We are calling on all countries to boycott the Olympics, athletes as well", he added. The New York-based Human Rights Watch called on corporate sponsors to pull out.

Mike Blakemore, from Amnesty International UK, said it was right for people doing business with China to examine whether their actions made them "complicit" in human rights violations.

The Olympics are supposed to be above politics, but the way they are conducted is sometimes well beneath politics.

Turkana :: 1:37 PM :: Comments (5) :: Digg It!