When the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Summer Games to China, it insisted that China respect human rights and free speech during the international event. China agreed, and allowed its citizens to apply for demonstration permits during the three-week extravanganza. The Washington Post reports that the process wound up being a confessional, with applicants persecuted for their attempts to protest the government:
When Ji Sizun heard that the Chinese government had agreed to create three special zones in Beijing for peaceful public protests during the 2008 Summer Olympics, he celebrated. He said in an interview at the time that he believed the offer was sincere and represented the beginning of a new era for human rights in China.
All previous evidence to the contrary, of course.
Ji, 59, a self-taught legal advocate who had spent 10 years fighting against corrupt officials in his home province of Fujian on China’s southeastern coast, immediately packed his bags and was one of the first in line in Beijing to file his application to protest.
It is now clear that his hope was misplaced.
In the end, official reports show, China never approved a single protest application — despite its repeated pledges to improve its human rights record when it won the bid to host the Games. Some would-be applicants were taken away by force by security officials and held in hotels to prevent them from filing the paperwork. Others were scared away by warnings that they could face “difficulties” if they went through with their applications.
Ji has spent the past eight months in various states of arrest and detention. In January, he was sentenced to three years in prison, the maximum penalty allowed, on charges of faking official seals on documents he filed on behalf of his clients. Ji is appealing.
I hope the moral relativists at the IOC pay attention to this, although I doubt they will. The notion that a three-week sporting event would effect real political change in China was laughable on its face, but the IOC insisted that its award to Beijing would help its dissidents. Perhaps they can talk to Ji, if they can get into prison to see him.
For the rest of us, we knew that the IOC had done nothing but give China a three-week world stage on which to trot out propaganda of every sort. The regime made all sorts of promises — unfettered Internet access, for instance — that it never intended to meet. They even manhandled the Western press when covering a peaceful protest by Tibetan activists. Beijing’s pledges of openness were nothing but a cheap facade to fool foreigners for a little over a fortnight as the inexpensive ante to their propaganda jackpot.
The only people to pay for it were those sucked in by the IOC’s insistence on giving Beijing credibility on these promises — people like Ji, who will go to prison because he dared believe that the regime would allow protests.