Virtually all independent observers agree that repression across China is increasing as the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics approach. National leaders planning to attend the games, governments, media and corporate event sponsors should therefore indicate to their respective publics what they are doing to try to reverse this trend. Otherwise, they risk being tainted badly by what a Human Rights Watch spokesperson has suggested could become a "human rights debacle".
Hosting an Olympiad while escalating the persecution of communities and individuals among your own population is irreconcilable with the modern Olympic Charter. It's hard to say at times which side appears to grasp this point less -- the government of China or the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The first hopes that spending vast amounts on facilities - and forcibly removing thousands of Beijing families from their homes without adequate compensation to do so --will somehow improve its international reputation.
China's party-state is counting on overseas visitors this August - and more importantly on those watching television images at home - noticing Beijing's new dragon-shaped airport, its bird's nest-looking national stadium and the athletic events rather the full implications for its nationals of maintaining absolute political control. The same is true of its championing of autocracy across the world.
Dr. Sev Ozdowski, the former Australian Human Rights Commissioner who was raised in Poland, recently noted that the Third Reich used the 1936 Berlin Olympics for similar purposes. He adds that in 1936 Hitler's dictatorship was already well established, including political executions without trial and the racist Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, which removed all civil liberties from German Jews. Despite many such omens of what was yet to come, Ozdowski notes correctly, "the Western democracies decided to overlook these developments in the name of unity of Olympic spirit."
In 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were more than twice as many arrests in China as the previous year for the 'offence of endangering state security'. The number jumped to 604 arrests in 2006 from 296 in 2005.
Among those arrested was Gao Zhisheng, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Gao is a leader who shares many qualities with Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and is increasingly admired both in and beyond China. He might well emerge as one of China's elected leaders when the country opts for the rule of law and democracy. Gao knows painfully well the Chinese metaphor, "the peg that stands out is pounded down" and that democracy rights are essential to human dignity.
Gao began life in a poverty-stricken family. In the early years, he earned his living as street vendor, but later managed to pass the bar exams without attending law school. He donated a third of his time to victims of human rights violations. In 2001, he was named one of China's top ten lawyers, following a competition by the ministry of Justice. He later represented miners, evicted tenants and other victimized persons, but when he attempted to defend members of the Falun Gong spiritual community the party-state unleashed its full wrath upon him and his family.
This included removing his permit to practice, an attempt on his life, having police attack his wife (Nov 2006) and 13-year-old daughter (Dec 2006), and attempting to deny the family any income. In December, 2006 he was sentenced to three years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power", although international pressure appears to have caused a suspension of the sentence for five years. Gao predictably did speak out again and his whereabouts is now unknown to the great concern of many.
Gao himself has managed to find a basis for hope. Speaking to fellow citizens who came to Beijing in Dec, 2005 to petition the government, he said: "It is our misfortune to live in the China of this historical period. No-one on this earth has ever had to experience or witness the suffering that has befallen us. Yet it is also our fortune to live in the China of this historical period. For we will experience and witness how the greatest people on earth banished this suffering once and for all."
Like Gao, the Chinese are a strong and resilient people, too many of whom who are currently exploited by the Party bosses of their country. Their friends outside the country should speak up for them - and perhaps especially for women and girls, who are often even more mistreated than men and boys. Why, for example, is the government spending tens of billions of Yuan on Olympic facilities instead of using much of it for badly needed social programs, education and housing for the poor? It is simply nonsense for the president of the IOC to imply that the Olympics have nothing to do with politics; for the party-state in China, it has everything to do with politics and its image in the world.
Many outside China think they know the country, having read about it, visited flourishing cities and perhaps having Chinese friends, but much of importance is often over-looked. It was, for example, only when David Matas and I began to search below the surface that I began to realize that things were not so simple, including the way a large spiritual community, the Falun Gong, continues to be treated in the 21st century, not as human beings, but essentially as objects for sale as body parts.
The Party seeks to equate itself with China as a country, to convince naive persons within and outside that it is China, and that without the Party there would be no China. This is despite the inconvenient reality that its ideological foundation is now widely-discredited European Marxism. A farmer in China put it best, "Karl Marx does not sound like a Chinese name." This is also the underpinning of the Party strategy to maintain absolute power.
On a more hopeful note, Reuters News reported a few weeks ago that the Party's senior think tank, the Central Party School, has warned that it must reduce its current absolute power through democratic reforms. The 366-page report, "Storming the Fortress" notes: "Citizens' steadily rising democratic consciousness and the grave corruption among Party and government officials make it increasingly urgent to press ahead with demands for political system reform." It also calls for restricting Party powers and expanding the rights of citizens, reporters and religious believers. Is hope enough?
Is Xi Jinping, the Shanghai party boss, the new president of the Central Party School and the very recently-designated successor to Hu Jintao as party secretary in 2012, listening? What of his party colleague, Li Keqiang, Hu's protégé, who was just anointed by the same circle of Party bosses to replace Wen Jiabao as prime minister in 2013?
"Bloody Harvest Games"
David Matas, and I concluded following our independent investigation last year that since 2001 the party-state in China and its agencies have killed thousands of Falun Gong practitioners, without any form of prior trial, and then sold their vital organs for large sums of money, often to 'organ tourists' from wealthy countries (Our report is available in nineteen languages at www.organharvestinvestigation.net ).
Neither of us are Falun Gong practitioners, but my experience with Falun Gong in the numerous national capitals Matas and I have visited, seeking to bring organ pillaging to a halt by helping to raise public awareness, has been overwhelmingly positive. Falun Gong practitioners attempt to live their core principles of "truth, compassion and tolerance", which are shared by virtually all of the world's spiritual communities.
Matas and I have spoken in several countries to a number of Falun Gong practitioners sent to forced labour camps since 1999, who managed later to leave both the camps and China itself. They told us of working in appalling conditions for up to sixteen hours daily with no pay and little food and many sleeping in the same room, making export products, ranging from garments to chopsticks to Christmas decorations for multinational companies. This clearly constitutes both corporate irresponsibility and flagrant violations of WTO rules.
The labour camps, operating across China since the 1950s, are remarkably similar to one's in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. They operate outside the legal system and allow the Party to send anyone to them for up to four years with neither hearing nor appeal by simply getting compliant police to sign an order of committal.
Consider a little of what Jennifer Zeng, now of Australia, said about her own experience in one of the camps, located not far from the shiny new national stadium: "I was sent to the Female Forced Labour Camp in Beijing in 2001 for practising Falun Gong. The police made it clear that the only purpose to be sent there was to be 'reformed', which meant to force us to give up our beliefs. In order to achieve this, the police stopped at nothing. We were not allowed to sleep for as long as 15 days and 15 nights, sometimes even one month. We were shocked with electric batons, beaten up, sexually abused, forced to work under appalling conditions for 16 or even 20 hours a day. We were put under severe and endless mental pressure to betray our own beliefs …"
Echoes of Rwanda
The propaganda phase, begun in mid-1999 against a then estimated 70-100 million Falun Gong practitioners across China, demonized, vilified and dehumanized them in Party-controlled media. Many Chinese were thus persuaded to think of the community as even somehow less than human. It recalls a similar media campaign unleashed by a regime in Rwanda against its minority Tutsi community prior to the genocide there between April and June, 1994.
There has been no independently reported instance of a Falun Gong practitioner using force to respond to police attacks since July, 1999. The former UN Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Novak, concluded following his own visit to China more than a year ago that two thirds of the persons being tortured across the country were Falun Gong practitioners.
Why is it that in only one of the eighty or so countries where Falun Gong practitioners now live are they persecuted mercilessly? Their growing popularity among the Chinese people of all ages and walks of life during the 1990s was clearly one major reason, but another no doubt was that the values of those now in power in Beijing are at the opposite end of any ethical spectrum.
The Chinese Medical Association recently agreed with the World Medical Association that 'organ tourists' can no longer obtain transplants in China. Whether this is anything more than public relations, intended to benefit the Olympics, remains to be seen. Another concern is that organs seized from Falun Gong practitioners will now go to wealthy Chinese patients instead, with the hideous commerce thus continuing in the same volumes.
None of these deaths would be occurring if the Chinese people enjoyed the rule of law and their government believed in the intrinsic importance of each one of them. Human lives across China appear to have no more value to the Party than does the natural environment, work safety, health care or the well-being of Buddhist monks in Tibet and Burma. In my judgement, it is the toxic combination of totalitarian governance and 'anything is permitted' capitalism that allows this new form of evil in the world to persist.
A number of the world's most brutal dictatorships have fallen under Beijing's sway during its scramble to acquire as much as possible of the earth's natural resources. I'll mention here only Sudan as a representative case, but I'd ask you to reflect on how any government doing the terrible things in Tibet, Burma, East Turkistan/Xinjian, Uzebekistan, Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world which China's party-state is doing or has done could be allowed by the IOC to host an Olympiad?
In Sudan's Darfur province, since April, 2003 an estimated 400,000 - 450,000 African civilians have been murdered by bombs, bullets or burning directed by the Bashir military government in Khartoum, or died of related causes, such as starvation and disease.
The government of China continues to assist Sudan's Bashir in numerous ways, including, financing and supplying arms in exchange for taking most of Sudan's oil production at cut prices. Since the slaughter began in 2003, China's party-state has also used the threat of its veto in the UN Security Council to block continuously any effective UN action against Sudan.
Protected by China's government, Bashir is confident that he can complete his genocidal work in Darfur. He recently appointed Musa Hilal, the one-time leader of the murderous militia, the Janjaweed, to a position in his government. Hilal has been quoted expressing gratitude for "the necessary weapons and ammunition to exterminate the African tribes in Darfur."
Last month, the Sudanese military ambushed a well- marked U.N. peacekeeping convoy in Darfur, later claiming it was a mistake. Virtually every independent observer says it was a deliberate attack. There is growing concern that the Sudan-China alliance will cause the UN peacekeeping force in Sudan to be as ineffective as it was in Rwanda and Bosnia.
The ongoing role of China party-state across Sudan and elsewhere is clearly not the conduct of a responsible member of the international community. Nor is it a peaceful rise for China.
Growing Shadows over Olympics
The world looks forward to Olympiads, including London's in 2012, because they feature the best athletic talent from our entire family of nations. The Games this year face increasing criticism because the host national government remains one of the world's most gross and systematic violators of human dignity.
China was awarded the Games by the IOC only after it pledged to respect the Olympic Charter and to improve its human rights record. Instead the rest of us are now adjusting to its worsening inhuman practices. Some democratic governments, which should have more historical awareness and principles, are even trying to silence their athletes.
Why, for example, do Falun Gong practitioners face continuing merciless persecution after eight long years? What principle of the modern Olympic Games, especially after the experience in Hitler's Berlin in 1936, allows a host government to bar any spiritual community's members from competing in, or even watching, events in Beijing? What about Tibetans, Buddhists, Christians, Uighurs, human rights advocates, independent journalists, and other and democracy activists?
The Olympic Games and human rights movements worldwide share the same goals: unity, dignity and equality among the entire human family. When this is violated systematically by the host government of an Olympiad, the Olympic movement as a whole loses credibility. The IOC has to date provided no substantive response on this issue.
The IOC should demand from the organizers of the 2008 Games that they conform to the Charter and refrain from discrimination against any group or individual during these Games. As consumers, we might all begin to ask serious questions to the corporate sponsors of the Games, including Manulife, Visa, Kodak, Samsung, Panasonic, Omega, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, General Electric, John Hancock and Coca-Cola. Silence from them implies acquiescence with what is going on across China.
Prince Charles, Mia Farrow, Steven Spielberg, Uma Thulman and many others around the world have already stood up for human dignity at the 2008 Olympics. Is Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch not correct when she says that corporate sponsors, governments and National Olympic Committees should urge Beijing to improve human rights conditions in China? "Olympic corporate sponsors are putting their reputations at risk unless they work to convince the Chinese government to uphold the human rights pledges it made to bring the Games to Beijing," she said recently. "Human rights are under attack in China, and Olympic sponsors should use their considerable leverage to persuade Beijing to change policy."
The rest of us should too. We are asking the government of China to honour the promises made when it bid for the Games. If you agree, please press your own government and your National Olympic Committee to urge the government of China to fulfil its commitments.