Chinese Government, IOC Wasted Historic Opportunity for Reform
August 7, 2008
The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee have had seven years to deliver on their pledges that these games would further human rights. Instead, the Beijing Games have prompted a rollback in some of the most basic rights enshrined in China’s constitution and international law.
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch

(New York) - The 2008 Beijing Olympics will open tainted by a sharp increase in human rights abuses directly linked to China’s preparations for the games, Human Rights Watch said today. The games open on August 8, 2008.

The run-up to the Beijing Olympics has been marred by a well-documented surge in violations of the rights of free expression and association, as well as media freedom. In addition, abuses of migrant construction workers who were pivotal to Beijing’s infrastructure improvements have increased, as have evictions of Beijing residents whose homes were demolished to make way for that infrastructure. Those abuses reflect both the Chinese government’s wholesale failure to honor its Olympics-related human rights promises, as well as the negligence of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in ensuring that China fulfills its commitments.

“The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee have had seven years to deliver on their pledges that these games would further human rights,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.“ Instead, the Beijing Games have prompted a rollback in some of the most basic rights enshrined in China’s constitution and international law.”

Human Rights Watch pointed particularly to the following ongoing abuses and some of their most recent victims:

  • The silencing of Chinese citizens who express concerns about Olympics-related rights abuses through intimidation, imprisonment, and the use of house arrest. For example, Ye Guozhu, a 53-year-old housing rights activist, remains in prison despite having completed his four-year prison sentence in July 2008. After attempting to organize protests against forced evictions related to the Beijing Olympics, Ye was convicted on December 18, 2004, on charges of “suspicion of disturbing social order.” Ye’s family has said they believe the government will hold him until after the games to prevent him from speaking freely.
  • Evictions and demolitions for Olympics-related infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of residents have been evicted and their homes demolished in the course of Beijing’s makeover. Ni Yulan, a 47-year-old lawyer who was disbarred and imprisoned for her work defending the rights of those forcibly evicted in Beijing and crippled by beatings she suffered in prison, is now awaiting trial on charges of “obstructing a public official” (Article 277 of the Criminal Law), which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. During the incident in question, Ni was resisting the demolition of her own home when she was hit on the head with a brick and dragged to the ground.
  • Hundreds of cases of harassment and restriction of foreign media from reporting freely, in violation of China’s Olympic pledge and temporary regulations in effect from January 2007 to October 2008. The Chinese government continues to severely restrict the foreign media’s access to Tibet since violence flared in Lhasa in mid-March. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for the security of all foreign journalists in China, also continues to refuse to investigate death threats made against foreign correspondents in the wake of a state media-driven vilification campaign of “western media bias” following the Lhasa violence.
  • An intensifying crackdown on “undesirables” and removal from Beijing of migrant workers, beggars, sex workers, and petitioners (residents from the countryside seeking redress for abuses at the grassroots level), among others. Despite its insistence that these would be the “greenest” games in history, in July 2008, the Beijing municipal government ordered tens of thousands of migrant workers who work as garbage recyclers to leave the city ahead of the Olympics.

“The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee have wasted a historic opportunity to use the Beijing Games to make real progress on human rights in China,” said Richardson. “That failure has damaged the prospects for a legacy of enhanced media freedom, greater tolerance for dissent, and respect for the rule of law.”

Instead, the Chinese government has concentrated its energies on smothering the voices of those who have spoken out publicly about the need for greater tolerance for and development of human rights.

Those citizens include:

  • Yang Chunlin, a land rights activist from Heilongjiang province. Yang was arrested in July 2007 for his involvement in a petition against illegal land seizures by officials and for writing essays denouncing official wrongdoings. Yang, who had collected more than 10,000 signatures for his petition, titled “We want human rights, not the Olympics,” was charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” On March 24, 2008, Yang was sentenced to five years in prison after a trial which lasted less than a day and failed to meet minimum standards of due process.
  • Hu Jia, a Beijing-based human rights activist who has worked on numerous issues including AIDS advocacy. Hu was one of 42 Chinese intellectuals and activists who co-signed an open letter, “One World, One Dream: Universal Human Rights,” calling for greater attention to human rights in China. On April 3, Hu was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power,” and sentenced to three and a half years in prison, as well as one additional year of deprivation of political rights. His wife and fellow activist Zeng Jinyan has been under house arrest in Beijing since May 17, 2007, along with their baby daughter, Qianci.
  • Huang Qi, a veteran dissident and founder of www.64tianwang.com, a website dedicated to publicizing alleged human rights abuses which occur across China. Huang was detained on June 10, 2008 in Chengdu while investigating allegations that shoddy construction had contributed to the collapse of schools in the March 12 Sichuan earthquake. He was formally charged with “possessing state secrets” on July 18.
  • Teng Biao, one of several Beijing lawyers, including Zhang Jiankang and Jiang Tianyong, who lost their licenses to practice law as an official reprisal for publicly offering to defend Tibetan suspects arrested in the wake of the Lhasa riots in March. Teng Biao first became a target for official punishment due to a letter he co-wrote with Hu Jia in September 2007. The letter was a stinging indictment of the Chinese government’s failure to deliver on its promises to the IOC to develop human rights in China ahead of the 2008 Olympics. “When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing … you may not know that the flowers, smiles, harmony and prosperity are built on a base of grievances, tears, imprisonment, torture and blood,” they wrote.
  • Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who in June 2005 filed a class-action lawsuit accusing officials in Linyi, a city in Shandong province, of seeking to enforce restrictive population control laws by subjecting thousands of people to late-term forced abortions, compulsory sterilization, midnight raids, and beatings. In retaliation, on June 21, 2006, the Yinan County People’s Procuratorate formally arrested Chen on charges of damaging property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic. On August 24, 2006, Chen was found guilty of these charges and sentenced to four years and three months in prison. Chen’s final appeal was rejected on January 12, 2007 by Linyi Intermediate Court.

“The crackdown on activists, the increase in evictions, the harassment of journalists, and the ‘sweeps’ from Beijing are all worsening because of the Olympics,” Richardson said. “Only by releasing these people and ending this intimidation can the Chinese government and the IOC salvage the integrity of the Olympics.”

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