(WOOOO! GO PHELPS! -Katie)
A Cause for Concern
Sadly, despite anticipation and excitement, there will still be a dark cloud hovering that has nothing to do with smog. It has to do with the fact that not everyone who planned to enjoy the opening ceremonies live in Beijing will be present. Many former Olympians, journalists and artists have been surprised and shocked by last minute visa denials. The denials stem from China’s fear of political activists bringing attention to sensitive topics—freedom of press and the situation in Darfur, among others.
Sharon Hom, director of the New York-based non-profit organization, Human Rights in China explains that by denying visas, China’s government is “choosing to lose face in a small way.” If the activists are allowed and they reap international interest in the issues, China would be anxious of losing face on a larger scale.
Many of the individuals denied entry were surprised by the action. Kendra Zanotto, a former bronze medalist, had hoped to return to the Olympics to cover the event as a journalist. Chinese officials would not tell her the reason for her visa being denied, but she later found that the government was uncomfortable with her affiliation with Team Darfur. Zanotto had no plans to make any political statements at the games and didn’t understand how she could be seen as a threat. The president and co-founder of Team Darfur, gold medalist Joey Cheek, had plans for a 2-week stay in China, but less than a day before his departure found that his visa was revoked. Cheek feels that the withdrawal of his visa is “part of a systemic effort by the Chinese government to coerce and threaten athletes who are speaking out on behalf of the innocent people of Darfur.” For Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, the refusal of a visa is frightening. With much of his family living in China, he fears not seeing them again.
Things should have gotten looser in China, not more restrictive with the Games. Something has gone wrong – I hope it's just a temporary setback for the country.Plenty of people like Bob Dietz were sure that the Olympics would help further human rights in China, and that was indeed China’s promise to the International Olympic Committee 8 years ago! But as of yet, the Olympics has only hindered the rights of citizens in China. Plenty of violations of human rights have been directly related to Beijing’s arrangements for the Olympics. Housing activist, Ye Guozhu, remains in prison for attempting to organize protests against forced evictions related to the Beijing Olympics despite the fact that his sentence was completed in July of 2008. Ye’s family believes government will hold him until the games are finished to prevent him from speaking freely.
Enjoy the games, and remember that there is a lot more going on behind the fireworks displays and big, fuzzy mascots. While sports are supposed to be the main attraction to the Olympics, it seems that this year the focus can’t help but be shifted to human rights. While President Bush doesn’t mind sitting back and showering his attention on the games, the media and the public are more and should be concerned with how they’re affecting (or not affecting) China’s people.
-- Fathima Khan
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