NEW YORK—In less than 30 days, Beijing will kick off its opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics. While China prepares for its appearance on the world's center stage, the Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and political dissidents of China will undoubtedly suffer 30 days of persecution and oppression.
These groups who are denied rights by the Chinese regime cannot have their voices heard in China. But here in America, where freedom of speech is not muffled, protests and calls for human rights have strengthened recently as the start of Beijing '08 draws closer.
The Unlucky Eight
Eight is generally considered a lucky number in Chinese culture, but members of the “POC 8″—eight select prisoners of conscience in China—can't exactly consider themselves lucky. The POC 8, which according to Reporters Without Borders, includes Huang Qi, Sun Lin, Qi Chonghuai, Hu Jia, Yang Chunlin, Chen Guangcheng, Shi Tao and Yang Zili, were the highlight of a July 8 global appeal for their release.
Representatives of Reporters Without Borders, Initiatives for China, and New York officials gathered at New York's City Hall Tuesday to speak out for the POC 8 and to call for their release.
“They are innocent,” said Lucie Morillon from Reporters Without Borders, “They didn't do anything wrong. The only thing they wanted to do was to peacefully speak their mind. Their ultimate goal was to improve the status of human rights and the status of people in China.”
According to Baiqiao Tang, Tiananmen survivor and director of China Peace and Democracy Federation, there are documented 732 political prisoners in China right now. But that number is nowhere near the real number.
Prominent Tiananmen Square activist Jianli Yang experienced first-hand being locked away in a Chinese prison, and was released only last year.
“Since my release, I cannot forget for one second the thousands and thousands of political prisoners I have left behind,” Yang said.
Yang told the story of Bingjiang Wang, another political prisoner who is the founder of the overseas Chinese democracy movement and was abducted in 2006. He was held for six months before his arrest was even announced. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
“Dr. Wang, in his 60s, is in deteriorating health and is languishing in a Chinese prison without hope,” said Yang. “He and his family, and many many more political prisoners and their families need our help!”
Falun Gong Roundups
While Chinese officials are keeping political dissidents in jail, Chinese police are busy rounding up Falun Gong practitioners and transporting them to labor camps, sometimes without trial. According to the Falun Dafa Information Center (FDIC), more than 200 Falun Gong adherents have been arrested in Beijing alone, and more than 30 have already been sentenced to “re-education through labor” camps without trial. Labor camp sentences are lasting up to two and a half years.
“The fact that these people are being sentenced to such long terms shows that these arrests are not about ensuring a 'harmonious Olympics' as Party officials may try to claim,” said FDIC spokesman Erping Zhang in a related statement. “Although Falun Gong adherents pose no threat whatsoever to the games, the Olympics are being taken as an excuse to put them behind bars for years.”
Chinese police are conducting not only warrant-less, door-to-door arrests, but are also targeting areas where Olympic events are being held, such as in Beijing's Chaoyang District, which hosts soccer and swimming events, and Haidian District, which hosts basketball and volleyball events. The arrested are then often sentenced in sham trials, and families are notified months after the sentence.
“Given the large percentage of people who have already been sent to labor camps, the dozens currently filling Beijng's detention centers are at grave risk of wrongful sentencing,” said Zhang. “It is now imperative that the international community leverage real pressure and stop these deplorable actions, lest the legacy of the 2008 Olympics be hundreds of Beijing residents languishing in labor camps.”
Terror in Tibet
The crackdown on Tibet by the Chinese communist regime also intensified recently as more than 1,000 Tibetan monks were arrested and detained to suppress potential protests during the Olympics. The organization Students for a Free Tibet and its sources in eastern Tibet confirmed that three central monasteries around Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, were emptied and the monks sent either 600 miles away to Gormo or even further to Xining on the Eastern Tibetan border.
The British newspaper The Times reported that the monks that were taken into custody will be released after the Beijing Olympic Games.
“The Chinese government has locked up over a thousand Buddhist monks in Tibet to crush any sign of dissent during the Olympics,” said Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, via a press release. “This is the latest in a series of Beijing's despicable acts that use the Olympics as an excuse to crack down on Tibetan cries for human rights and freedom.”
Tenzin Dorjee, Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet, said in a press release, “The Chinese authorities are planning to perpetrate a massive fraud during the Olympics, attempting to convince the world that all is well while Tibetans continue to suffer under China's brutal occupation.”
The arrests of Tibetan monks follows the slew of recent events involving the Chinese regime tightening their iron fist on the autonomous region. In March, Tibetan protests turned violent. Dozens of deaths were reported after the Chinese military brought Lhasa and other parts of Tibet under martial law. They continued that stratagem two weeks ago when Chinese troops inundated the streets of Lhasa while the Olympic torch was paraded through Tibet.
The press conference at New York's City Hall included Tibetan activists, such as Phurdu Dorjee. Dorjee is a native Tibetan who has seen the Chinese Communist Party constantly tyrannize his homeland and his people.
“The Panchen Lama, the second highest religious figure of Tibet, was imprisoned when he was just a six-year-old boy. Is this not a violation of human rights?” he said. “Since 1949, we have lost 1.2 million Tibetans. Is this not the clear cut truth that [the CCP] is guilty of genocide in Tibet? And has this genocide stopped? No!”
He further urged, “Tibetans are peace loving and nonviolent, and they are suffering at the hands of the Chinese government.”
Calls for the Bush administration and the international community to condemn these actions have largely been ignored.
“We are extremely disappointed that President Bush and other world leaders are turning a blind eye to the suffering of the Tibetan people and are attending the Olympics opening ceremonies,” said Han Shan, Olympics Campaign Coordinator for Students for a Free Tibet.
When Beijing won the rights to host the 2008 Olympics in 2001, the Chinese government made a promise to the International Olympic Committee and the international community to concretely improve human rights. But those promises have for the most part been empty.
“We've been waiting for the improvement of human rights we've been promised. We've been waiting for the complete freedom of the press we've been promised,” said Morillon, of Reporters Without Borders.
Jianli Yang commented that “there are two Chinas in China: one China is the China the Chinese government is trying to showcase to the outside world and its citizens; the other China is the China that the government does not want us to see.”
It is for that reason that the outside world must look through the mask that China has put on and persevere in demanding rights, said Jeremy Taylor, host of the cable show Step Up.
“Stop supporting a government that commits genocide against its own people,” said Taylor. “Stop supporting a government that commits genocide against Tibet and against Burma. Stop supporting a government that protects the world's worst perpetrators, including Kim Jong-Il and Robert Mugabe.”
Regarding the abuses by the Chinese Communist Party, Shan said, “It's truly disgusting and should be a call to all political leaders, all nations, the U.N., and appropriate institutions to say enough is enough.”