Published on
The Guardian/UK

Not Just Tibet, China Too

Protests against the Olympic torch relay in Athens, London, Paris and San Francisco have focused almost entirely on China's occupation of Tibet. The many grave human rights abuses that are happening in China itself have been largely ignored. This one-sided focus is undermining attempts to build unity and solidarity between the people of China and Tibet against their common enemy: the capitalist free market tyrants in Beijing who masquerade as communists. Don't get me wrong. I agree with exposing China's political, economic and cultural hegemony in Tibet. The Tibetan people - like the people of Scotland, West Papua, Baluchistan and everywhere else - have a right to self-determination. I made this point last Sunday, during the Olympic torch protests in London. I was arrested for running in front of the "flame of shame" holding a placard which read: "Free Tibet". But my placard also read: "Free Hu Jia." This was a reference to a leading Chinese - not Tibetan - human rights campaigner who was jailed in Beijing last week for three-and-a-half years, for campaigning (peacefully and lawfully) for free speech, Tibetan autonomy, environmental protection, and for the human rights of the rural poor and people with HIV. Hu Jia is a truly heroic figure who has shown immense determination and bravery; having continued campaigning, even though he knew it would put him at risk of arrest, torture and imprisonment. In jail, Hu Jia is likely to be mistreated, starved of proper food and denied medical treatment for his hepatitis B infection. You can read here his account of the abuses he had already suffered prior to his recent incarceration. The case of Hu Jia shows that there are good, honourable Chinese people who support the Tibetan people's freedom struggle. It also demonstrates that Chinese and Tibetan people have a shared interest in working together against the dictatorship that oppresses them both. China has a notorious human rights record, as documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Asian Human Rights Commission. But in the run-up to the Olympics, these abuses are actually getting worse. Human Rights Watch reports "numerous abuses in China tied to Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Summer Games, including media and internet censorship, extrajudicial house arrests and sentences on charges of state subversion of government critics, abuses of migrant construction workers, forced evictions, and the ongoing crackdown on protests in Tibet ... Yang Chunlin received a five-year sentence for having begun a petition titled 'We want human rights, not the Olympics'." In September last year, blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng was jailed for four years and three months for campaigning against forced sterilisations and abortions. The list of victims runs into hundreds of thousands, if not millions. These abuses are taking place in China, not Tibet. On every front, Beijing stands accused of gross violations of human rights. China is one the world's most vicious anti-worker regimes. It has weak labour laws and systematically violates international legislation that it has signed and pledged to uphold. Many factory employees are forced to work long hours, with few breaks. Health and safety standards are routinely breached. Employees have little protection or redress against abuse by the management. Independent trade unions are banned and their leaders jailed. Workers who complain are liable to dismissal and arrest. All across China there have been waves of strikes against these "shark capitalist" conditions. They have been suppressed brutally, in ways that we normally associate with a fascist junta. To make way for new cities, motorways, office blocks and dams, millions of people have been forced off their land with little or no compensation - and sometimes without any relocation assistance. In Beijing, 1.5 million residents have been forcibly relocated to make way for the Olympics. Many of those who have petitioned the government against these abuses, have suffered retaliation and abuse, including being thrown into the notorious secret "black prisons," which are unregistered and unaccountable. Channel Four's TV series, Unreported World, exposed this extra-judicial system in January this year. It documented people being detained without trial, with up to 20 people being held in a tiny, squalid room. Many reported having been beaten. Evidence was presented that the police were working hand-in-glove with property developers seeking to grab the detained people's houses and land. China is free market state-sponsored capitalism at its worst. The gap between the rich and poor is one of the widest of any country on earth. The idea that China is any longer a communist state is laughable. The Communist Party has become a new ruling class and a route to personal advancement, corruption and wealth aggrandisement. The Beijing leaders are new emperors who ride roughshod over their own people. They have almost total power and they abuse it to oppress and exploit the Chinese nation (as well as the Tibet nation), often in ways similar to the old feudal and colonial powers of the 19th century. Gordon Brown shamed himself, his government and Britain by greeting the Olympic torch at Downing Street last Sunday, at a time when China is shooting dead Tibetan protesters and jailing and torturing hundreds of political prisoners. It is hypocritical for the Prime Minister to boycott the Zimbabwean regime, but not the dictatorial regime in China. Instead of colluding with Beijing's Olympic propaganda, the whole world should subject China to sporting protests, in the same way that there were sporting protests against apartheid South Africa. Attempts to persuade the Beijing leaders to stop their human rights abuses have failed. China is manipulating the Olympics. It is using them to boost its credibility and to divert attention from its systematic violations of human rights. To support the people of Tibet and China, we need action. Politicians and athletes from all countries should, at the very least, boycott the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Podium protests by medal winners would also be courageous and powerful gestures. There can be no normal sporting relations with an abnormal regime. Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner, and a member of the queer rights group OutRage! and the left wing of the Green party. He is the Green Party's parliamentary candidate for Oxford East.

© 2008 The Guardian

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Peter Tatchell

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner, and a member of the gay rights group OutRage! and the left wing of the Green party

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