In China, Rights Activists Use Olympics to Push for Reforms
Washington Post: Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee and Beijing Communist Party secretary, was speaking at the ceremony in southern Greece when at least two protesters ran behind him, video footage of the event showed. One of the protesters unfurled a black flag that showed handcuffs in place of the five Olympic rings. Later, a Tibetan woman covered in fake blood lay in the center of a nearby road, blocking the path of a torchbearer. Other demonstrators raised posters reading "Free Tibet."
Security officials hurried to smother the protests. Three people from the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders were detained, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, in the Chinese capital, an activist who penned an open letter urging "human rights, not the Olympics," was sentenced Monday to the maximum five years in prison for subverting the power of the state. And a former top official who was jailed over the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests added his name to the voices pushing Beijing to sit down with the Dalai Lama over the recent unrest in Tibet.
Chinese officials, in turn, accused domestic and foreign "separatist" forces of trying to destroy the Aug. 8-24 Olympic Games. On Monday afternoon, the government announced the arrests of five Tibetans accused of deliberately setting fire to two shops in Lhasa during last week's deadly protests. The blazes killed nine Han Chinese victims, including an 8-month-old baby, and a Tibetan.
"Their evil purpose is to produce turmoil to interrupt and destroy the 2008 Beijing Olympics, whose theme is peace, and to destroy our country's good stability and unity in order to reach their evil goal of splitting the mother country," said Shan Huimin, a spokeswoman for China's Ministry of Public Security. Shan showed reporters graphic video footage from the riots but took no questions.
China is scrambling to avoid a public relations disaster as critics of its crackdown in Tibet and its human rights record step up their efforts to use the Olympics to push for reform. The drive has unnerved Olympic sponsors and put the International Olympic Committee on the defensive.
"The IOC is engaged in what I call a 'silent diplomacy' with Chinese authorities since day one of the preparations of the games," IOC President Jacques Rogge told the Associated Press from southern Greece, where he attended the flame-lighting ceremony that kicked off the torch relay.
Rogge, who has come under increased fire for not pressuring China to do more about atrocities in Darfur, the Chinese crackdown in Tibet and human rights in general, repeated his view that the IOC was not a political organization. "We are discussing on a daily basis with Chinese authorities, including discussing these issues, while strictly respecting the sovereignty of China in its affairs."
Rogge insisted China's human rights situation has improved since Beijing was awarded the games in 2001, a view many activists here dispute.
Yang Chunlin, 53, an activist laborer with a history of writing dissident essays and calling for political reform, was shocked with electric batons Monday as he was escorted from the Jiamusi City Intermediate People's Court in northeast Heilongjiang province after his sentencing, his sister said in a telephone interview. (more)