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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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April 9, 2008 11:35 AM

PRC crack down and the doused torch

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The communist party's desire to preserve tight control over China has been brutally displayed in Tibet and by a spate of recent jailings. The tough language used by party officials in Beijing and the use of force to quell the Tibet protests has not surprised me.

I was part of a group of U.S. journalists that met with an Olympics official in Beijing last September. When asked how China would deal with protests or threats of terrorism both domestic and international he simply said there would be no protests or terrorist attacks.

I thought this claim to be a bit naive if he believed Chinese dissidents and forces outside the country would not use the Beijing games as a platform to gain attention. I assume his thinking was more along the lines of the PRC doing what it must to project a happy event to the world.

Simon Elegant from Time had a good piece last week about how China is dealing with dissent leading up to the games. He wrote:

...if Beijing was caught flat-footed by the scale and scope of the Lhasa protests, it has been equally unready to change its policies on the human-rights front, despite knowing almost from the day the Games were awarded to Beijing in 2001 that hosting the Olympics would shine an increasingly bright spotlight on its dismal rights record. In fact, rights advocates inside and outside China say a string of recent convictions and the imprisoning of activists all over the country are just the latest in a yearlong, wide-ranging crackdown designed to stifle even the slightest sign of dissent ahead of the Games. Even China's huge online population of some 230 million, which is often cited as the country's most powerful force for greater openness, has felt the heat. Thousands of websites have been shuttered while government controls and blocking of sites outside China have intensified in recent months. As Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, put it in a report released on April 1, despite assurances by both the International Olympic Committee and Chinese officials that restraint would be exercised, "the crackdown ... has deepened, not lessened, because of the Olympics."

The PRC is tone deaf to how its actions in Tibet appear to the world. China will surely get what it wants. A joyous Olympics that will be broadcast in a way to highlight the positive. It can't happen any other way. The IOC gave up the right to hold Beijing accountable when it awarded the games to China. The world's more powerful nations have groused about human rights but are not going to do anything to upset the Olympics.

A suggestion I like was floated in today's Seattle Times by sports columnist Steve Kelley. Douse the Olympic torch. Kelley, his column can be found here, points out that the torch relay was created by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Not only would ending the relay end something that started with the Nazis, the action could be used as a teaching moment. Remind the world that genocide, repression, and censorship are not what free and healthy societies are built on.

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