OLYMPIC CHIEF Jacques Rogge said in 2005 that, “the staging of the Beijing games will do a lot for human rights.” In fact, staging the Olympics has already thrown tens of thousands of Beijing residents into deeper poverty and made the political environment across China even more terrifying.
This repeats the experience of staging the Olympics elsewhere, for instance the US which evicted 30,000 mainly African American residents from large housing projects and arrested 9000 homeless people to “clean up” Atlanta before the 1996 games.
Human rights activists and petitioners are being targeted in brutal police sweeps across the country. Those who dare to connect politics with the Olympics receive especially violent treatment.
Peasant activist Yang Chunlin organised a petition with 10,000 signatures under the banner “We don’t want the Olympics, we want human rights”. He was arrested and charged with “inciting subversion” last year and denied access to lawyers on the grounds that his case involved state secrets.
A fellow prisoner said that Yang Chunlin was chained to an iron bed and had his limbs stretched. He had to eat and defecate in this position. This lasted for a total of seven days.
In an age-old tradition, sanctioned by the constitution, petitioners from remote provinces travel to Beijing to present their grievances to officials for redress. Nevertheless, police have been closing down makeshift petitioners’ villages in the lead up to the games. Amnesty International believes petitioners are now held in secret detention centers on the outskirts of the city before being deported back to the countryside.
The Beijing government has used scares about terror plots to justify extreme security measures. In March officials claimed to have thwarted a terrorist plot involving “separatists, terrorists and religious extremists” from Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim province in the west. Hundreds of activists there have been arrested.
In July 15 Uyghurs—the ethnic majority of Xinjiang—were killed in what police described as a raid on a terrorist training camp.
The Olympics has been seen by the government as an ideal opportunity to destroy movements for change in political sensitive regions like Tibet and Xinjiang.
The most senior Communist Party official in Tibet, Qin Yizhi, recently said, “ Encouraged by the Olympic spirit of faster higher stronger Lhasa people of all nationalities will resolutely smash the Dalai clique’s scheme to destabilise Tibet, sabotage the Olympics and split the motherland”.
The government and the private sector have spent US$40 billion to raze working class suburbs and construct buildings for the rich. According to the Geneva based Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions almost 1.5 million people have been displaced due to the Beijing Olympics.
Many residents of the hutong areas—small traditional homes with courtyards along narrow streets—in Beijing have stood their ground. In response the state has stepped up its efforts. In 2005, the Supreme Court ordered lower courts to stop hearing cases brought by people who had been evicted.
Dangerous working conditions
The workers who have transformed the city’s skyline and transport system are mostly migrant labourers from poorer regions in the west.
Most workers earn around US$6 a day. They usually only get paid at the end of the year and receive a small allowance to live on. They do not get weekends off or receive any holiday pay, working an average of ten hours a day 27 days a month. Many live in squalid conditions on building sites.
Migrant workers feel they will never be able to enter the completed stadiums they built. Thirty year old Zhu Wanming from Sichuan said, “Attending the Olympics? That is for rich people. We can watch it on television. We can’t expect any more than that.”
Some workers have fought back. In August 300 migrant workers rallied in Tiananmen Square demanding that their wages be paid. The protest was broken up by police.
Far from ushering in a new era of political freedom in China the Olympics has functioned as a catalyst for even more brutality and repression.
By Tim Erickson