While millions of people gathered in Beijing to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics, protestors met outside of Chinese embassies in Washington D.C., London, Madrid, Paris, Stockholm, Rome, Berlin, Lausanne, and Ottawa to call attention to China’s gross violations of basic human rights. Despite the international pressure facing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to improve their human rights record, the CCP’s efforts to clean up Beijing before the Olympics has arguably resulted in only worsening the environment for perceived dissidents.
Joel Chipkar, a Falun Gong practitioner, asserted that “They’ve already arrested 8,000 Falun Gong practitioners from January 2008” in preparation against potential peaceful protestors at the Olympics. Reporters Without Borders released a report detailing the beatings of two Japanese reporters on August 5th, and also published a piece detailing the Communist government’s backtrack on allowing broadcasters to transmit from Tiananmen Square. They also provide a comprehensive list of the 30 journalists and 50 internet users currently detained by the CCP in an effort to control free speech.
The protest in D.C. took place at 8:08am on Friday to correspond with the actual time of the opening ceremony in China. Though organized by Reporters Without Borders, a group dedicated to preserving journalists’ free speech, the group was joined by protestors standing for freedom for Tibet and North Korean refugees. The mystic religious group Falun Gong held up signs with statements such as “Grant UNHR Access to N. Korean Refugees,” “No human rights, No Olympics,” and “Stop the Genocide Against Falun Gong.” The protestors also shouted slogans such as “Free Speech in China,” “Human Rights in China,” “China out of Tibet now,” and “Shame on China,” as cars driving past the colorful group honked in support. Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) also showed his support by opening the protest with the first speech of the day.
The protestors calling for freedom for Tibet were the most vocal in the demonstration on Friday. China views Tibet as a part of the Mainland. Tibet, however, claims independence and autonomy. As a result, Chinese security forces frequently clash with ethnic Tibetans and Buddhist monks from the fledgling region and on March 10th a significant Tibetan protest turned violent.
The protest in D.C. drew a crowd that included a former North Korean refugee. Human rights activists have long called for Chinese sympathy for the poverty-stricken people seeking sanctuary in the mainland, fleeing from the flawed and brutal regime in North Korea. While the CCP did allow about 40 North Korean refugees to flee to a third country just before the Olympics, the case was viewed as an exception to China’s typical policy towards human rights groups. In an effort to remain on good relations with their fellow communist neighbor, the Mainland defines the émigrés as economic migrants and thus undeserving of the international rights guaranteed to refugees. As a result, North Korean refugees—if caught—are often sent back home.
China has spent billions of yuan in preparation for the Olympic games and the country’s hard work was evident on August 8th. However, China’s effort to improve its human rights record has proved to be nothing more than a calculated act reminiscent of the opening Olympic ceremony.