By the time you read this, you would have enjoyed the spectacular opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. You would also have perhaps marvelled at the magnificent structures built for the Games: the main stadium The Bird’s Nest; the opera house, which is an oval dome rising out of a man-made lake; and the what-the-hell-is-that! headquarters of the state-run television corporation, which looks like a three-dimensional optical illusion. Each of these edifices is a true masterpiece.
It will be a grand Olympic: records will be broken, terrific feats will be performed, heroes will be born. Except. Except that Beijing should never have been allowed to hold the Games.
There are only two other non-democracies which have ever hosted the Games: Germany under Hitler (Berlin 1936), and the Soviet Union (Moscow 1980). The US and many other countries boycotted Moscow. The Berlin Games gave global legitimacy to the Third Reich and what it stood for (By then, persecution of Jews was in full swing: German laws already excluded Jews from the civil services, medicine and law, even agriculture.).
The Beijing Games will give global legitimacy to another evil regime.
China’s contemptible human rights record is well known, but what is not so well-known is that human rights violations have actually escalated over the last few years, precisely because of the Olympics. Instead of being a force of good and world peace, the Games have been a calamity for thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of upright, ordinary and innocent Chinese men and women.
To build those breathtaking buildings, thousands of Chinese families were evicted from their homes, and the vast majority of them have neither been given any financial compensation, nor alternative housing. Many have been tortured and imprisoned. This is the darkest secret of the Beijing Games.
On June 25, Liu Shaokun, a schoolteacher who photographed collapsed school buildings in quake-ravaged Sichuan, was sentenced to a year of re-education-through-labour. He is not even allowed family visits. The same day, Xie Changfa, a dissident from Hunan, was arrested on “suspicion of subverting State power”. Three days later, police detained Datong railway workers’ rights activist Liu Jianjun. On July 5, Liu was arrested as a criminal on, yes, “suspicion of inciting subversion of State power”.
Four days later, Tianjin police detained dissident L‼ Honglai. No one knows where he is. His wife has been told that L‼ is “under investigation by the relevant department”. Huang Qi, founder of website tianwang64.com, had been collecting information from parents who lost their children in the collapsed schools. He sought to expose official corruption behind the shoddy construction of schools. He is in prison now for “illegally possessing State secrets” (The definition of “State secrets” in the Chinese State Secrets Act is so vague that you could hang for publishing the recipe for Mandarin Chicken). The police have detained dissident writer Du Daobin. They seized his computers, CDs and manuscripts, and told his wife to change her phone number so foreign journalists would not be able to contact her.
The list is endless. If you want more, visit hrichina.org.
Every human rights lawyer and activist in the country has been either arrested or threatened or been physically assaulted (including a police car crashing into the car of a lawyer who was driving his son to school) in the last few months. Even privation levels in prisons have been pumped up. Political prisoners are no longer allowed to leave their cells, so they cannot speak to anyone or breathe fresh air. The quality of food and medical facilities has been lowered. Prisoners with high blood pressure are no longer allowed a BP instrument in the cell. Even a thermometer is off limits now.
And a second type of state terror victims will appear (or, perhaps more appropriately, disappear) after the Games. These will be the unfortunate Chinese athletes who, the State will suspect, could have done better. For four years, the State has spent gigantic sums of money on training its athletes, with the singular aim that China wins more gold medals than the US at Beijing. If that is not achieved, scapegoats will be needed. Any athlete, who, on that given day, performs at less than what the State believes is his or her peak, will be a target. Midnight knock. Re-education through labour.
The Games are a blessing for the Chinese State. They are a curse for the Chinese people.
Sandipan Deb, former Editor of The Financial Express, heads the RPG Group’s forthcoming magazine venture. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Indian Express