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Correction to This Article
This article misidentified the affiliation of Nicholas Bequelin. He is a China researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Defiant Chinese Harassed, Jailed Before Olympics

Crackdown Defies Vow Beijing Made to Be Host

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By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 2, 2008

ZHENGDING, China -- Behind the gray walls and barbed wire of the prison here, eight Chinese farmers with a grievance against the government have been consigned to Olympic limbo.

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Their indefinite detainment, relatives and neighbors said, is the price they are paying for stirring up trouble as China prepares to host the Beijing Games. Trouble, the Communist Party has made clear, will not be permitted.

"My bet is the authorities won't let them out until after the Olympics," said Wang Xiahua, a veteran anti-government agitator from this farm town 180 miles southwest of Beijing and a supporter of the imprisoned farmers.

The Olympic Games have become the occasion for a broad crackdown against dissidents, gadflies and malcontents this summer. Although human rights activists say they have no accurate estimate of how many people have been imprisoned, they believe the figure to be in the thousands.

The crackdown comes seven years after the secretary general of the Beijing Olympic Bid Committee declared that staging the Games in the Chinese capital would "not only promote our economy but also enhance all social conditions, including education, health and human rights."

Now, human rights have been set back rather than enhanced, activists say.

"The Olympics have reversed the clock," said Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based specialist for Human Rights in China.

Another foreign human rights advocacy group, Amnesty International, came to a similar conclusion in a report issued Monday titled "The Olympics Countdown -- Broken Promises."

"By continuing to persecute and punish those who speak out for human rights, the Chinese authorities have lost sight of the promises they made when they were granted the Games seven years ago," said Roseann Rife, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific deputy director. "The Chinese authorities are tarnishing the legacy of the Games."

The repressive atmosphere has intensified in part because senior Communist Party officials seem to be just as determined to prevent embarrassing protests -- which could be televised -- as they are to avert terrorist attacks during the Olympics. In exhortations to security forces, Public Security Ministry commanders and Xi Jinping, the senior Communist Party leader in charge of Olympic preparations, repeatedly have said that police must block any attempt to damage China's image.

Despite these concerns, President Bush and many other world leaders have accepted China's invitation to attend the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday. After saying for months that the Games should be viewed only as a sporting event, Bush met with Chinese rights activists Tuesday and said he would use the opportunity to remind President Hu Jintao of U.S. support for human rights. The Foreign Ministry criticized his gesture, calling it interference in China's internal affairs. But his decision to attend was still being interpreted as endorsement of China's contention that the Olympic Games are not an appropriate stage for human rights appeals.

Bequelin, the researcher at Human Rights in China, said the opportunity for foreign governments to use the Olympics to pressure China on human rights has passed in any case, because world leaders are likely to be reluctant to embarrass Hu and other party leaders with strong stands during China's moment in the sun.


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