By OnTheWeb: Martin Tampier Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Canada Free Press: In 2010, the world will get together in Vancouver-Whistler for the Olympic Winter Games. We will welcome them to an open society that appreciates different cultures and grants its citizens the freedoms that are so important to living with of dignity. Not so next year, at the Beijing Olympics.
Pastor Wang ZaiqingChina has been, and still is today, a society that denies these rights and freedoms to its citizens. You may have heard about their killing prisoners to sell the organs to Western customers. Or their disregard of local residents in their rapid expansion of construction, industry and power generation projects.
Or the child workers employed to make souvenirs for the upcoming Olympics. We also know what happened in 1989 at Tiananmen Square, where the army brutally suppressed a worker and student protest, leaving several hundred dead. And we would all like to believe that these things are past, and that China is now becoming more open and a more responsible citizen of the world. But this is far from being the case.
Since the announcement that Beijing would get the Olympics, we are seeing a drastic, but underreported, crackdown on religious minorities. This time it’s not only Falun Gong members, but also Christian churches that are being raided by the Chinese military police. Here are some examples from this year:
22 evangelical leaders were arrested in June. Authorities of the eastern Shandong province condemned two leaders of evangelical house churches to a year of “re-education through labour”. Others were detained for several days without charge, or were also likely to be condemned to work in a labour camp.
In July, 15 house church leaders were detained by military police within one week in Inner Mongolia, Jiangsu and Anhui province. A Vacation Bible School for 150 children was attacked and two teachers were beaten and hospitalized. Police did not provide any legal paper for the arrest, blaming one pastor of being involved in “illegal religious activities.”
This December, 270 Chinese pastors were arrested during a Bible study gathering. 40-50 policemen from 12 different towns were involved in the massive detention.
Last year alone, according to China Aid Association, the Chinese government arrested 1,958 pastors and members of unregistered Protestant churches. A similar number was reported for 2005. This absolute disregard for what we hold dear in Canada – religious freedom, freedom of expression, freedom to assemble – shows that the Western strategy of “opening up” China with increased trade and the Olympic Games is not working. Canada has a long history of standing up for what’s right. Our own government website states, “Canada has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values, from our central role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947-8 to our work at the United Nations today.” It also states, “Responses to specific situations depend upon a number of considerations, including a government’s relative commitment to human rights and the effectiveness of the means of influence at our disposal.” When could there be a more effective moment to act than when we host the Winter Olympics just two years after Beijing?
A 2006/2007 scorecard report by UN Watch praised Canada for its stance on human rights, but went on to say that it fails to speak out often or strongly enough for victims of most of the world’s worst regimes, remaining silent when it came to notorious abuses in China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. Is this the legacy we want?
A boycott by Canada would but follow good advice from many others who are concerned. For example, actor Richard Gere, Chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet, is calling for a boycott of the Games because of the Tibet question. Reporters without Borders have asked for a boycott because of human rights violations. Others, including 106 lawmakers in the U.S., call for a boycott because of China’s support for Omar al-Bashir, who is responsible for governmental violence in Darfour (Sudan). From within China, voices of disappointment about the impact of the Olympic Games can also be heard. An open letter sent to the Chairman of the Olympic Committee by a group of Chinese lawyers and human rights activists in 2006 states, “The Chinese government is already preparing an illusion of peace and prosperity to mislead visitors. In doing so, they feel that voices critical of the government need to be crushed. That is exactly why they are engaging in large scale suppression of the human rights movement in China”.
Then again, why mix sports with politics? Should we not keep these issues out of the Olympic Games? The problem is, the entire idea if having the Games in Beijing is pure politics. Beijing’s bid for the Games ran against Istanbul, Osaka, Toronto, and Paris. Was the decision to go to China taken because of their better plans? The nicer environment? The more accommodating culture? No – it was taken precisely in order to engage China and to help it integrate better with the rest of the world. Even the Olympic Charter states, “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
So, from the start, the Olympics were meant to make China a better place. And that certainly is not happening. If we don’t use this opportunity now to speak out against Chinese Gestapo practices (meant to “clean the streets” before the Olympics take place), we never will. And China will never change. They will have gotten away with it once again and the West will have turned a blind eye. That’s politics, too: remaining silent for political reasons. Not wanting to upset anybody. When is enough, enough?
To quote the letter from the group of Chinese lawyers again, “the Seoul Games and those held in South Africa were turning points for the countries hosting them and this is why we are writing to you: we know the IOC is not a humanitarian or a political organization but according to its expressed goals, we believe the committee is obligated to press the Chinese government to improve human and civil rights in China.”
A boycott will upset our trade relationships with China. It will upset the 2010 Winter Olympics. Is it worth the price? Ask the ones who were imprisoned; ask the ones who are praying for them. They are hoping for a different China. We must not miss our chance to take a stand before it is too late!