When the International Olympic Committee assigned the 2008 summer Olympic Games to Beijing on 13 July 2001, the Chinese police were intensifying a crackdown on subversive elements, including Internet users and journalists. Seven years later, nothing has changed. But despite the absence of any significant progress in free speech and human rights in China, the IOC’s members continue to turn a deaf ear to repeated appeals from international organisations that condemn the scale of the repression.
From the outset, Reporters Without Borders has been opposed to holding the Olympic Games to Beijing. Now, one month before the opening ceremony, it is clear the Chinese government still sees the media and Internet as strategic sectors that cannot be left to the “hostile forces” denounced by President Hu Jintao. The departments of propaganda and public security and the cyber-police, all conservative bastions, implement censorship with scrupulous care.
Around 30 journalists and 50 Internet users are currently detained in China. Some of them since the 1980s. The government blocks access to thousands for news websites. It jams the Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur-language programmes of 10 international radio stations. After focusing on websites and chat forums, the authorities are now concentrating on blogs and video-sharing sites. China’s blog services incorporate all the filters that block keywords considered “subversive” by the censors. The law severely punishes “divulging state secrets,” “subversion” and “defamation” - charges that are regularly used to silence the most outspoken critics. Although the rules for foreign journalists have been relaxed, it is still impossible for the international media to employ Chinese journalists or to move about freely in Tibet and Xinjiang.
Promises never kept
The Chinese authorities promised the IOC and international community concrete improvements in human rights in order to win the 2008 Olympics for Beijing. But they changed their tone after getting what they wanted. For example, then deputy Prime Minister Li Lanqing said, four days after the IOC vote in 2001, that “China’s Olympic victory” should encourage the country to maintain its “healthy life” by combatting such problems as the Falungong spiritual movement, which had “stirred up violent crime.” Several thousands of Falungong followers have been jailed since the movement was banned and at least 100 have died in detention.
A short while later, it was the turn of then Vice-President Hu Jintao (now president) to argue that after the Beijing “triumph,” it was “crucial to fight without equivocation against the separatist forces orchestrated by the Dalai Lama and the world’s anti-China forces.” In the west of the country, where there is a sizeable Muslim minority, the authorities in Xinjiang province executed Uyghurs for “separatism.”
Finally, the police and judicial authorities were given orders to pursue the “Hit Hard” campaign against crime. Every year, several thousand Chinese are executed in public, often in stadiums, by means of a bullet in the back of the neck or lethal injection.
The IOC cannot remain silent any longer
The governments of democratic countries that are still hoping “the Olympic Games will help to improve the human right situation in China” are mistaken. The “constructive dialogue” advocated by some is leading nowhere.
The repression of journalists and cyber-dissidents has not let up in the past seven years. Everything suggests that it is going to continue. The IOC has given the Chinese government a job that it is going to carry out with zeal - the job of “organising secure Olympic Games.” For the government, this means more arrests of dissidents, more censorship and no social protest movements.
This is not about spoiling the party or taking the Olympic Games hostage. And anyway, it is China that has taken the games and the Olympic spirit hostage, with the IOC’s complicity. The world sports movement must now speak out and call for the Chinese people to be allowed to enjoy the freedoms it has been demanding for years. The Olympic Charter says sport must be “at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Athletes and sports lovers have the right and the duty to defend this charter. The IOC should show some courage and should do everything possible to ensure that Olympism’s values are not freely flouted by the Chinese organisers.
The IOC is currently in the best position to demand concrete goodwill gestures from the Chinese government. It should demand a significant improvement in the human rights situation before the opening ceremony on 8 August 2008.
And the IOC should not bow to the commercial interests of all those who regard China as a vital market in which nothing should be allowed to prevent them from doing business.
No Olympic Games without democracy!
Reporters Without Borders calls on the National Olympic Committees, the IOC, athletes, sports lovers and human rights activists to publicly express their concern about the countless violations of every fundamental freedom in China.
After Beijing was awarded the games in 2001, Harry Wu, a Chinese dissident who spent 19 years in prisons in China, said he deeply regretted that China did not have “the honour and satisfaction of hosting the Olympic Games in a democratic country.”
Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky’s outraged comment about the holding of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow - “Politically, a grave error; humanly, a despicable act; legally, a crime” - remains valid for 2008.