When China made its bid for the 2008 Olympics, Chinese authorities promised improvements in human rights. “By allowing Beijing to host the games you will help the development of human rights”, said Liu Jingmin, Vice president of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee, April 2001. Seven years on, China remains a country that executes, tortures and silences its citizens by the thousand. Far from improving, in the build up to the Olympic Games China’s human rights record has got worse.
As the Olympics approach, argues Amnesty International, human rights activists in China face serious risk of abuse. Several activists in Beijing have experienced growing harassment and surveillance, while abuse of activists across China is also on the rise.
China has warned that unauthorised protests will not be tolerated during the Olympics raising the prospect of detentions for civil rights campaigners and religious activists during the two-week event. This effectively means a ban – applications for protests are almost never approved. The only two mass demonstrations tolerated in recent years have been nationalistic: anti-Japanese rallies in 2005 and anti-American protests in 1999.
In order to ‘clean up the city’ before the Olympics Beijing extended the use of Re-education Through Labour (RTL ), in May 2006. RTL is a system of detention without trial called used since the mid-1950s. According to Amnesty International hundreds of thousands are believed to be held in Re-education Through Labour facilities across China and all are at high risk of torture or ill-treatment .
People can be detained for up to four years of forced labour, without trial. Offences punishable by RTL include unlawful advertising, unlicensed taxis, unlicensed businesses, vagrancy and begging, as well as peaceful protest or dissent.
Now is the Time
With only a week to go the Olympic count down has really started. We should put the Chinese authorities on the spot and demand they fulfil their promise to improve human rights. Now is the time to make people aware of China’s human rights record. It is important not to forget the 1000 or so Tibetans still unaccounted for after the violent crackdown against protesters in March.
The Beijing Olympics, which take place 8 – 24 August, are shaping up to be the most controversial Olympics in more than 20 years. While our athletes are strenuously training and focusing on the Games ahead – we can focus our attention on the Chinese Government. We want to make sure that this opportunity does not pass by without notice, action and ultimately, real sustained improvements. Greens, along with human rights groups, Tibetan supporters, environmentalists see the Olympics as an opportunity to highlight human rights abuses and China’s poor environmental record.
One of the fundamental Principles of Olympism is “preservation of human dignity” . We not only urge the Chinese authorities to institute human rights reforms and uphold the legacy of the Olympic Games, but also ask the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to play its part. The IOC touted these Games as a catalyst for more openness in China.