Torching the Olympic spirit

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.

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  1. That which you now have presented,is I believe the best one presented on the matter here,and elsewhere,and,the best you have presented on any subject as blog,Senator Andrew Bartlett! I will not ask,from what troubled clarity it stands like a mountain top above clouds,like some ancient art of Chinese origin.Or plate,where upon feeding off it,is to be sickened by the desire to eat again.

  2. I find it difficult to engage with Chinese people who think that we are only fed lies by CNN etc. How is it possible to convince them that they are the ones being fed lies?

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  4. Superb post Senator!

    For those interested in the fairly sordid history of the Olympic movement, they might like to track down copies of Andrew Jennings’ books on the IOC. He indulges in a tone of fairly tabloid outrage, but there’s plenty of hard truth there to back it up.

  5. Senator Bartlett, please look into the facts about the so-called “house church” Three Gredes of Servants:

    “The Three Grades”, and their rival “The Eastern Light” are unregistered/underground Christian sects banned by the Chinese government – because they were killing eachother in order to retain and compete for membership.

    These “cult of Christianity”, thou in name are Christian, do not even believe in the Bible. For example The Eastern Light believes Christ has returned to Earth – in the form of an invisible woman. The Three Grade’s Leader, Xu Shuangfu, actually named himself as the Messiah reborn.

  6. While murder is certainly a crime and should be punished, I don’t think any of the things Charles describes – even religious idiocy – are deserving of persecution (except perhaps comedic).

  7. Mr Liu, how do you explain this?
    Many Roman Catholic clergies are in prison for their faith. Are they cult members?

    Why is Christianity an “evil cult”?

    Why do China execute Christians like this?
    To make profit from organs?

    Corcerning the case you mentioned, why do China execute people without evidence?

    In 1955, Chairman Mao told the Dalai Lama “Religion is poison”. Do you believe this? I am interested to hear your honest opinion.

  8. Muzzmonster,
    There is at least one million reasons I would not live in China, none of them being honest media or truth-telling-only politicians. ‘Senatores boni viri sed Senatus bestiam’. (Senators are good people but the Senat is a beast’).
    Neither journalists nor politicians are made in heaven.
    We are being told/fed lies, too; children overboard, GST, weapons of mass destruction, L.A.W., Haneef’s case, AWB, low inflation, good (political) economy, etc, etc. The reports about ‘The Tampa’ made us a laughing stock in the world.

    John Howard was still re-elected although he had lied to the nation about GST and other things.
    Back in Vienna, where we were waiting for our Australian permanent visas to come through, our Austrian friends working for the Ministry of Culture at the time, warned us: ‘You have decided to go to the country with the worst media ever’.
    I do not know whether it has ever been true or not as I have no means to compare our rugs with ALL other media in the entire world, but yes, even with comparison to the United Kingdom, our media are very poor, indeed.
    We seem to have ‘taboo’ subjects as well.
    And we have media monopoly as well.
    China should be criticised for lots of things but it is not very smart to criticise your oponent for something you don’t want to be criticised.

  9. Tell us a truth we can assess without its failings,corrections,implications,residual loose strings or ends,and by pointing out such a generous set of lies,Zen,do not consider closer specific details are the same!? Address this question please!?How many radio,TV, newsprint and magazine outputs do you gather to analyse,and compare to come to your startling conclusion!?And for the subjects mentioned did you do that,and any update to today!? And when the Australian media in any form is either dependent,and,lacking resources,or interdependent but shallow in use of,can you claim that,say the Internet,or your own resources.. can meet the requirements implied in your statement here!?

  10. Ken, the execution photos you cited from peacehall is not asclaimed. The woman was in an infamous husband-murder case 5 years ago.

    The Chinese bloggers have been pointing out mis-use of these photos for years. These photo were most recently mis-represented as execuation of Lhasa rioters, when the woman’s name is clearly Han not Tibetan.

  11. Not one journalist in this nation bothered to enter Woomera and see the horrid conditions in the place just because Ruddock told them not to. 4,000 innocent people including over 1,000 kids were locked in that place, they were tear gassed, beaten, water cannoned, hand cuffed, locked in isolation and not one journalist bothered to go and see.

    We have deported children on false documents, dumping them in the wrong countries or sent them to the right places in the middle of wars and bombings and have had them slaughtered and said they asked for it.

    We have locked up and deported Australians and will be paying compensation for years to come.,22606,23566300-5007424,00.html

    The longest a child spent in our concentration camps was a Chinese boy for 5 years, 5 months and 20 days.

    In 1980 we had to boycott Russia for invading Afhganistan – in 2001 we invaded Afghanistan with less reason than Russia.

    WE have been occupying two nations illegally since the last Olympics, led the cheer squad when Israel goes on another rampage and we dare to whine about China as if we have no blood on our hands.

    What is it? Men in silly red dresses are more interesting than bombed to bits Iraqis and Afghans?

  12. Marilyn#10-I too have followed the horrors of Woomera,Baxter etc.I get very angry that all these detention centres are in state precincts run by the ALP.I feel angry when we(govts,individuals)rave on about our adherence to human rights,while conveniently ignoring our own contribution to oppressive practices.People should read’Following them Home’about deported asylum seekers being sent home to violence,torture & in too many cases-death.A graphic example was the Baqktieri(spelling?)family who were deported to Pakistan prior to Christmas a few yrs ago.Amanda Vanstone used the assertion,that Rose B had given false information,asserting that she was from Afghanistan.Only a few days later,the confirmation arrived(or maybe only released?)that Rose had told the truth.Who knows what’s happened to them since?
    I recall another story told by Julian Burnside about another family,locked up without access to toilet facilities(which were down the corridor).Mother went on hunger strike,chn forced to urinate on a bundle of clothes she placed in a corner.5 yr old locked up in separate cell next door to his dad.Horrific!
    Chilout has many stories of abuse,as does HREOC,also in the inquiry.Remember Howard refused to allow people from UN to visit some places.There’s been how many deaths?
    A friend of mine has taken in several asylum seekers on Temporary Visas & visits a detention centre regularly.The stories,the mental illnesses caused by detention,the bloody mindedness of govt authorities-just because they can!The monies people pay to get out?Where does it go?Why does it depend on who can raise $15-$30,000 to whom?(many from China?)So much for our so-called sympathies to people being oppressed in China or Tibet!
    What about Iraqis?We don’t include what we’re involved in or responsible for.Downer accused us of being Saddam sympathisers for marching against that illegal invasion?I didn’t help give him $300 million in bribes!How about that atrocity!Hypocrites!

  13. Philip Travers
    Since 1993 a very integral part of my job has been media research. But I hope that Marylin and Naomi have clearly addressed your contentious issues so I need no bother.
    Regarding a detention centres I did visit some of them and yes, there are stories to tell. This is one of them:
    When Amanda Vanstone allowed finally to visit the miserable souls in Baxter, local group of Rural Australians for Refugees prepared baskets with food, clothes, DVD’s etc and travelled all the way to the desert to ‘cheer up’ the detainees. One lady carried a pot full of curry for the Indian and African inmates. After the screening, security search, plastic ‘handcuffs’ on our wrists, etc, the lady was told by the security guards that she would not be allowed to enter because of her…..leather sandals. All other visitors with thongs on, sports shoes and other sandals were allowed but her. All men with leather sandals on were allowed. I got really upset and was trying to raise my concern but I was told not to be smart if I wanted to get in. No one wanted to raise the racial issue. The lady in question is a Sinhalese from Sri Lanka with pretty dark skin. Her husband is a well known degree engineer and they are both known members of local Christian community.For some reaasons, SA papers would not publish the story.

    Marylin, ‘men in silly red dresses’ are very interesting. From what I know from the Buddhist monks I met in Melbourne, monks are totally isolated from the outside world and never get any interests in the world around them except for the food they get from the community. They are definitely not interested in politics. Interestingly enough, no laymen rioted in the Tibet.

  14. I’m not sure that I was saying anything about the media at all, but I’d be willing to bet that ours has more freedom and is more open than China’s.

    While our politicians lie and our media accepts many of them, and self censorship exists without a doubt, most of our politicians’ lies are uncovered. For example, we now know that refugees weren’t throwing their kids overboard, that the government knew about AWB kickbacks, etc. And when we watch CNN, the screen doesn’t go black when there’s a report about Tibet or the Dali Lama.

    I’m not suggesting our media is perfect, but I reckon it’s better than China’s by a long way.

  15. Zen, while not an expert on buddhism nor monks, I have a reasonably informed layperson’s knowledge of the various schools of thought in buddhism. Your description of monks’ engagement with the world around them might be true for some, but is not true for all. Thich Nhat Hanh, for example, and the Dalai Lama, are very connected with the secular world, and there are many monks and nuns who do such work as founding hospices, other work with the poor, the imprisoned and other causes. Your assertion that no laypeople rioted in Tibet is interesting from two points of view: 1. How do you know who rioted? – we know that the official news from Tibet is censored and 2. we know that many western journalist take the easy way out and accept what they are told by the nationalist Tibetan propagandists.
    I have read reports which say that laypeople did riot, which I’m inlcined ot believe, if only for the reason that the Chinese government has made it very difficult for a majority of those who wish t become monks to do so, e.g. they have to undergo political indoctrination beofre they can join/stay in a monastery. There will be many non-monks who wish they were able to be monks, one reason for them to be angry and liable to take part in a riot.

    I don’t necessarily agree with violence, but let’s not believe everything we see or don’t see on TV or the Internet about Tibet and buddhism – as with any religion, there are many schools of thought. Christians have trappist monks who never speak to others, and those who do activist work in the outside world – buddhists have that sort of spectrum too.

  16. muzzmoster#13 Yes,you’re correct in your comparison of our media versus China,but we are far from even adequate let alone robust & free from political interference. Just 2 days ago on ABC TV news, an example of the new Rudd govt refusing a request for releasing certain documents;yes you guessed it “not in the public interest’ or “would result in unhelpful debate” or words to that effect.Sound familiar?
    There is a list of different countries history re a full & open media, and Australia comes after Bolivia & a few other comparable countries.(I’ve heard John Pilger refer to it)While we have the knowledge NOW or well after the event of certain happenings, it’s usually due to a brave person who’s had to pay for a long time for displeasing the PM or Minister. Apparently, Howard was quite ruthless in punishing journalists who went against his ‘wishes’. He’d just issue instructions that they were to be ignored-no invites to media releases,just frozen out!
    We still don’t know the truth about SIEV X. We still haven’t heard Howard,Vaile or Downer cross examined under oath re AWB.Will we ever hear the truth of when Howard agreed with Bush/Blair to invade Iraq?The problem with the kids overboard disgrace,was,that the damage was done and served Howard’s purpose-he was re-elected in 2001!
    We only hear of the Bush/White House version of real events in Iraq. The journalists have to be sanctioned by the White House.We only really hear of one side of Isreal/Palestinian travesty.The difference now is, that there’s heaps of information via other sources-thank goodness!Too many politicians still treat us as wayward children, who need protection from our own intellects,which infuriates me on a daily basis!
    And of course,there’s the Senate inquiries, and the minor parties who’ve instigated many of the in depth investigations, until Howard won the Senate. Remember IR Laws, the Anti-Terrorism Act etc.Told us to wait for legislation to come before the Parliament,then gagged debate!

  17. Charles Liu:

    From your link at post #4:

    “Cults are thriving among those the government has abandoned … because they provide social services”.

    Doesn’t this tell you something?

    I used to counsel people out of destructive Christian cults.

    As your link points out, the cults you refer to only “thrive” and kill one another due to government neglect of their needs. They’re probably living in fear of starvation -wondering where the next meal is coming from.

    A destructive cult can also be a POLITICAL cult, such as the current Chinese regime, which has no respect for any belief system outside of its own – totalitarianism.

    Take a better look at the bottom line. The Chinese government neither respects nor looks after its people.

  18. Children overboard has been revisited by zen, muzzmonster and naomi cartledge.

    By concentrating all attention on the events of two days in early October 2001 involving the boat known as SIEV 4, refugee advocates and the media can claim that children were never thrown overboard. However, some two weeks later, around October 24, a little girl was dropped over the side of SIEV 7, anchored off Ashmore Island. She was rescued by people already in the water and taken back on board. This is in the evidence given to the Senate committee on March 25, 2002, by then chief of navy Vice Admiral David Shackleton.

    Of the 12 people-smuggling boats intercepted by the Navy between September and December 2001, in six cases people held up children and made gestures as if to throw them overboard, and with SIEV 7 a child was actually dropped into the water by a woman. With SIEV 4 (the children overboard boat) and SIEV 10, children and others were forced into the sea when their boats foundered after being deliberately sabotaged by those on board. In the latter case, two women drowned.

    Admiral Shackleton made it clear that once the Government decided to stop people-smugglers from landing on the Australian mainland there was an escalating pattern of violent behaviour in which some asylum-seekers did indeed threaten the safety of children to try to intimidate Navy personnel.

    If the children overboard issue is to be revisited, let us have the whole story from SIEV 1 to SIEV 12. On that subject the Government’s position was much closer to the truth than not.

  19. I didn’t edit out the fleeting references to ‘children overboard’ contained within previous comments so I won’t delete this comment from Franklin responding to it, but I’m not going to have an ongoing debate on children overboard in this thread. There is a very good reason why the term has become synonymous with brazen dishonesty and deliberate false slander for political purposes, and I presume it was in this context that commenters made the reference.

    I can only say you are amazingly determined in your attempts to still vilify these refugees, more than six years after they were grossly defamed by our Prime Minister. Regardless of whatever misleading negative spin you want to give to the facts from when our Navy was directed to push back refugee boats, the simple fact is the Prime Minister and other senior ministers continued to fiercely repeat an outrageous slur as if it were true, well after they knew it to be 100% false.

  20. On a previous thread I commented on the discrimination experienced by non moslems at the hands of some moslems in detention centers, which was labeled by Senator Bartlett as vilification. On this thread I made a comment to clarify children overboard, which has also been labeled as vilification. It seems that my comments expressing an alternate viewpoint on the asylum seeker issue invariably attract a label of “vilification” from Senator Bartlett.

    Vilification can be described as the communication of a statement that makes false claims that may harm the reputation of an individual or group. However, if a statement contains factually correct information and does not make false claims, could it then still be considered as vilification ? For example, could descriptions of discrimination experienced by non moselms taken from an official HREOC report be considered as vilification ? Could information on the actual events of children overboard revealed at Senate Committee hearings be considered as vilification ? So, can the vilification label be attached to comments that are factually correct and do not make false claims ?

    The reality is that this is Senator Bartlett’s weblog, and therefore he is free to follow his own agenda and biases (as we all do), and therefore establish his own criteria for applying the label of vilification. However, on application of such criteria and taken from other viewpoints could not some of the above postings on the previous government be labeled as vilification ? Indeed, from an alternate viewpoint could not some of Senator Bartlett’s comments on the government’s handling of the asylum seeker issue and his above comments be labeled as vilification of the previous government ? Perhaps vilification lies in the eyes of the beholder.

    And a final thought: in the asylum seeker debate has there not been anyone who has been more greatly vilified than John Howard and Phillip Ruddock by some refugee advocates ?

  21. The following quotation is taken from an above posting of Marilyn:

    “The longest a child spent in our concentration camps was a Chinese boy for 5 years, 5 months and 20 days.”

    The use of the words “concentration camps” would, for most people, automatically evoke images of nazi death camps. Whether the evoking of such an image is intentional or unintentional, and whether the equating of australian detention centers with nazi death camps is intentional or unintentional can only be answered by Marilyn.

    For a large number of people the equating of australian detention centers with nazi death camps (intentionally or unintentionally) would be greatly offensive and grossly misleading. However, I would ask Senator Bartlett if he is comfortable with such a comment appearing on his Weblog, and if he is not comfortable with it why did he leave it uncommented.

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