Authoritarian Olympics Should Not Be Repeated
As the Beijing Olympics draw to a close, Freedom House urges the international community to insist on a new standard for awarding the Games, one that requires countries to be democratic and to respect basic human rights. The high human cost of this year's Olympics—hosted by one of the world's most repressive regimes—should be fully investigated and this information used to ensure that the International Olympic Committee makes more responsible host country choices in the future.
"We're just beginning to understand the lengths to which the Chinese Communist Party went to systematically crush dissent in the name of the Olympics," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "Behind all of the pomp and glitter, an untold number of Chinese citizens are now languishing in labor camps, prisons or simply missing as a result of these Games. The Chinese authorities and their partners at the IOC have taught the international community some painful lessons that should not be ignored."
A new democratic standard for the Games should be put in place before any new host countries are announced. The next two Olympics are in established democracies, but in 2014 the Winter Games move to Russia, an authoritarian regime that recently invaded neighboring Georgia forcing more than 100,000 people from their homes.
"The IOC consistently demonstrated that it was unwilling to use its influence to push China's Communist leaders to make even basic reforms," said Windsor. "Without intervention now, I can guarantee that Russia will deliver a repeat performance of China's most grievous human rights abuses."
Freedom House offers the following lessons learned from the Beijing Games:
• The international community made a mistake in not opposing the Beijing Games: In the future, the international community should outright oppose awarding the Olympics to authoritarian governments. The Games give the host country a considerable international platform from which to promote its worldview. Democratic countries including the United States have a responsibility to ensure that the Games do not provide a means to expand authoritarian power or to repress host country citizens.
• Host countries must be held accountable to the Olympic Charter: The charter's fundamental principles prohibit "any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise." However, Chinese authorities repeatedly used the Olympics to repress a wide range of groups from ethnic minorities and Falun Gong adherents to political dissidents and parents of children killed in the Sichuan earthquake. One example was that of the Rev. Hua Huiqi, who was prevented by policemen from attending a church service where U.S. President George W. Bush appeared August 10. Rev. Hua escaped from police and remains in hiding.
• Olympic host contracts should be made public: Confusion over what China promised to the International Olympic Committee emerged throughout the Games, most notably when Chinese authorities prevented foreign journalists at the Main Press Center from accessing numerous websites, including those of Freedom house and other human rights groups. Authorities unblocked some of those sites after well-publicized protests by the international media and eventually the IOC. The international community can clearly help enforce host contracts if the terms are public.
• Freedom of assembly must be protected: Midway through the Games, China's state-run news agency reported that authorities had not approved any of the 77 applications from those who wanted to demonstrate in the official protest zones set up for the Olympics. Most applicants were Chinese nationals with a constitutional right to petition the government. Instead, security agents took some applicants away and sentenced others to labor camps, including two women in their 70s who wanted to protest their forced eviction from their homes. Others are still missing. A new democratic standard for host countries would ensure freedom of assembly in the future.
• Press freedom should not be compromised. The IOC agreed to allow China to set up an unfair system under which foreign journalists would be allowed to report freely while Chinese journalists remained under tight control. Instead, at least 10 foreign journalists were assaulted during the Olympics by Chinese police unable to understand this dual system. John Ray of Britain's ITN was briefly detained, police destroyed the equipment of a photographer with Britain's Guardian newspaper and forced an Associated Press photographer to delete photos in Xinjiang. At the same time, police were instructed to investigate any Chinese citizen who spoke to foreign media, limiting the views available to reporters.
China is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in China since 1972.
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