Ahead of Olympics, Massive Arrests Spark Intensified Protests

July 9, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015

Bikers with mobile billboards from the Reporters Without Borders group launch an international campaign in New York 07 August 2007 on the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Bikers with mobile billboards from the Reporters Without Borders group launch an international campaign in New York 07 August 2007 on the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK—In less than 30 days, Beijing will kick off its opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics. But while China prepares for its appearance on the world’s center stage, the Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and political dissidents of China fear they will suffer 30 days of persecution and oppression.

These groups who are denied rights by the Chinese regime cannot speak out in China, but protests and calls for human rights in the U.S. are gaining steam as the start of Beijing Olympics 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—likely don’t consider themselves lucky.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the POC 8 includes Huang Qi, Sun Lin, Qi Chonghuai, Hu Jia, Yang Chunlin, Chen Guangcheng, Shi Tao and Yang Zili. The prisoners were the highlight of a July 8 global appeal for their release that saw representatives from Reporters Without Borders, Initiatives for China, and New York officials gathering at New York’s City Hall 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, a Tiananmen survivor and director of the China Peace and Democracy Federation, there are 732 documented political prisoners in China today. But that number is said to be a low estimate.

Prominent Tiananmen Square activist Jianli Yang experienced first-hand being arrested and held in a Chinese prison, and was only released last year. “Since my release, I cannot forget for one second the thousands and thousands of political prisoners I have left behind,” he said at the July 8 appeal with sorrow in his voice.

Yang told the story of Bingjiang Wang, another political prisoner who is the founder of the overseas Chinese democracy movement. Yang was abducted in 2006 and was held for six months before his arrest was even announced. He was later sentenced to life in prison.

Falun Gong Round-ups

While Chinese officials are keeping detained 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). The FDIC also says that 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. “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 Beijing’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 China’s government has also intensified recently when 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 <I>The Times</I> 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,” affirmed Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, adding, “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.”

"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," said Tenzin Dorjee, Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet.

The arrests of Tibetan monks followed the slew of recent events involving the Chinese government clamping down on the autonomous region. In March, Tibetan protests turned violent and dozens of deaths were reported after the Chinese military brought Lhasa and parts of Tibet under martial law. The tactic was repeated two weeks ago when Chinese troops inundated the streets of Lhasa when the Olympic torch was scheduled to be paraded through Tibet.

The New York press conference at City Hall featured Tibetan activists, including Phurdu Dorjee. Dorjee is a native Tibetan who has seen China 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,” said Dorjee. “Is this not a violation of human rights. Since 1949, we have lost 1.2 million Tibetans. Is this not the clear cut truth that China is guilty of genocide in Tibet? And has this genocide stopped? No!”

The group says that 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.

Changing China

When Beijing won the rights to host the 2008 Olympics in 2001, the Chinese government made a promise to the International Olympic Committee and international community to concretely improve human rights. But those promises have been empty for the most part.

“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.

Yang added 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.”

According to Jeremy Taylor, host of a local cable show, it is for that reason that the outside world must look through the mask that China has put on and preserve in demanding rights.

“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.”