When the Olympic Torch made its brief stop over for a run around the block in Canberra last week, Australia’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials gushed about the “values of the Olympic movement”, coupled with some tsk-tsking about pesky protestors ‘hijacking’ that movement for their political agendas.
It seems to me that the many people, in Australia and around the world – and most tellingly within China itself – who are trying to highlight the many serious human rights abuses of the Chinese government are doing a much better job of trying to defend the spirit and principles of the Olympics than the IOC.
As we bask in the glow of the celebration of shared humanity which the Olympics characterizes, it is worth reminding ourselves of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, which include that “belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter”.
These Principles also include:
- “Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
- “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
- “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
- “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”
It is amazing that so many people still try to assert that the Olympics have nothing to do with politics, or that human rights have nothing to do with the Olympics, when the IOC’s own Fundamental Principles specifically mention human rights and freedom from discrimination on the grounds of – among other things – politics.
Chinese nationalism is being used in an effort to assert that any criticism of the Chinese government’s actions is an attack on China. The coverage of protests regarding the Beijing Olympics has mostly been defined as being about Tibet, and much of that has been reduced to being for or against independence for Tibet. Whilst this is an important issue, it obscures the fact that thousands of people throughout China are victims of serious human rights abuses.
Chinese citizen Hu Jia wrote the following words
If there is no human dignity or human rights, then there can be no real Olympics. For the sake of China and for the sake of the Olympics, defend human rights.
As a consequence of speaking out, Hu Jia is now serving a jail term of over three years, while his wife and even his five month old baby are subjected to house arrest.
I appreciate the complexities of trying to use public and diplomatic pressure to generate a change in behaviour from a government – particularly a totalitarian one. However, when people are being subjected to severe persecution and oppression merely for speaking out or following their beliefs, I think it is important to draw attention to the voices of those whose opportunity to speak for themselves is curtailed.
Following is more of the reality of current-day China which Hu Jia sought to tell the world.
We don’t want to see a blockaded or isolated China. However, it is only through the pressure generated by adhering to human rights principles and a frank dialogue that China will be spurred to improve its current situation. Ignoring the above realities and covering up the various violent actions committed behind Beijing’s glittering Olympic rings is a blatant disregard of the Olympic Charter. Protecting human rights takes time, but we should take immediate steps to ensure that the human rights situation in China does not continue to deteriorate. Allowing a country that tramples on human dignity to hold the Olympics does not bring honor to the people of this country.
On August 13, 2007, Yang Chunlin, a rights defender from Heilongjiang Province, was formally arrested on the suspicion of subverting state power because he launched a petition, on behalf of several tens of thousands of peasants who had lost their land, declaring “We want human rights, not the Olympic Games!”
China has continually instigated literary inquisitions, with more journalists and writers in prison than any other country. According to incomplete statistics, more than several hundred journalists and writers have been imprisoned since 1989.At least 30 journalists and 50 Internet users are currently detained in China, and more than 90 percent of these were arrested or sentenced since China won its bid to hold the Olympics on July 2001. For example, journalist and poet Shi Tao was sentenced to ten years in prison after he sent an email to overseas websites. Xu Zerong, a Oxford University PhD, was sentenced to 13 years in prison because he did research on the Korean War and thus charged with “illegally providing intelligence outside the country.” Writer Qing Shuijun (Huang Jinqiu) received a 12-year sentence because he published an article on the Internet. Some writers and dissidents have been prohibited from leaving China; others are prohibited from returning home.
In order to build Olympic sports facilities, the home of Ye Guozhu and Ye Guoqiang, two brothers who live in Beijing, was forcibly demolished. Because the two brothers petitioned the government to defend their rights, they were convicted. Ye Guozhu’s hands and feet were shackled together many times in prison; he was also tied to his bed and beaten with an electric baton. He remains in Chaobei Prison in Tianjin and continues to be tortured. According to reports, 1.25million people have been forced from their homes to make way for the construction of Olympic facilities. This figure is expected to rise to 1.5million by the end of this year. Some 400,000 internal migrants have been forcibly removed from their homes, which were demolished without any resettlement scheme. Of this number, 20 percent of the families were left in poverty or were made more destitute. For the purpose of holding the Olympics sailing competition, the city of Qingdao forcibly demolished residential homes, and detained and convicted many citizens and rights defenders.
Shenyang, Shanghai, Qinhuangdao, and other Olympic venues have all had similar incidents of forced removal and demolishment of homes.
Since 1999,members of religious groups whose ability to worship has been restricted by the authorities, such as members of the Falun Gong and Three Grades of Servants, have been the victims of extremely cruel treatment and systematic persecution. Many were killed, and some were tortured or persecuted to the point of psychological illness. Others face prison because they have refused to abandon their religious beliefs, are in possession of possession of religious books, or have made CD disks or written articles exposing the truth of this persecution.
Of those Chinese citizens sentenced to death, some are completely innocent. For example, Nie Shubin, Teng Xingshan, Cao Haijin, and Hugejiletu were all only proven to be innocent through extraordinary, fortuitous circumstances. Chen Guoqing,He Guoqiang, Yang Shiliang, Zhu Yanqiang, Huang Zhixiang, Fang Chunping, Cheng Fagen, and Cheng Lihe were eight innocent farmers who confessed under intense, cruel torture by the police. The judge clearly knew the accused were innocent, but still handed down death sentences. A stay of execution was granted, and the eight men are now being held separately in Hebei and Jingdezhen Prison.
China continues to be the world leader in carrying out death sentences. The number of death sentences is considered a state secret, but according to estimates by experts, some 8,000 to 10,000 Chinese are executed each year. The Chinese government forcefully repatriates North Korean refugees, even though it clearly knows that these refugees risk being put into labor camps and may even face execution when they return home. This is a violation of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which China is a state party.
Everyone should know that the country that is about to host the Olympics is one without democratic elections, freedom of religion, independent courts or independent unions. It prohibits protests and labour strikes. It is a state that carries out widespread torture, discrimination, and employs a large secret police system.