Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wronged Over Rights In China

When China was selected as to host the 2008 Olympics, critics of China's rights record were shushed with the assurance that the Olympics would spur greater openness. The output should have been fairly easy to guess up front: China's immediate response in 2001 to being awarded the 2008 games was to convict a Chinese-American scholar in a closed-door trial and censor Olympic officials' comments about expected human rights progress. Lack of concern about China as a nation worthy to conduct something that should be as sacred and untainted as an international sporting competition suggests that the voting for Olympic venues was as corrupt as the voting at the games themselves.

An idealist might have imagined that the establishment of official protest zones would indicate tolerance for diverse opinion to be expressed in Beijing during the games -- a start on genuine freedom of expression. Apparently, filing for permission to protest in the free speech zones can get you sentenced to re-education through physical labor. Given that the two cane-carying elderly little ladies sentenced to labor camps in the story linked here were just trying to attract attention to the insufficient compensation they were given when their homes were taken, one can conclude that the Chinese Constitition's explicit protection of the right to property is as much a farce as its guaranty of human rights. When the rights described in the constitutional amendments were unanimously adopted by China's Congress, China's Premier Wen Jiabao vowed, "We will make serious efforts to carry them out in practice."

I wonder who the "we" was in his promise. I'm guessing it doesn't include the police or the work-camp operators. An attorney who's been arrested, beaten, and otherwise harassed for trying to bring to reality the rights China's law claims to guarantee explains the government's position against granting protest petitions in clear terms: “For Chinese petitioners, if their protest applications were approved, it would lead to a chain reaction of others seeking to voice their problems as well."

A cynic might conclude a formal system for obtaining protest permits would simply allow the government to identify malcontents for reconditioning, while providing excuse to oppress non-permitted protestors (i.e., for lack of a protest permit).

Having gotten away clean with this kind of conduct while the world's cameras were on Beijing, China will be emboldened to continue with business as usual. Locals, of course, will read nothing about this from censored papers, but will be fed victory propaganda about China's success in the Games.

Just for curiosity: are there any amateurs left in the Olympics? From any country?

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