I see one swimmer, seven arrows and no human rights reforms

I spotted Michael Phelps, eight-time gold-medallist in Beijing, while I was walking round Hampstead Heath with my parents yesterday. He was having some pictures taken on a diving board by one of the ponds and we all got quite excited about it, as did the crowd that soon gathered round. I’ve never been excited about seeing a swimmer before. We’d also got a bit excited about the Red Arrows flying over my flat on Sunday as part of the ‘Countdown to London 2012’ celebrations.

To be honest, this was the first time I’d ever got even faintly excited by the Olympics: I’m not that big an athletics fan and Nottingham Forest’s 3-2 win over Watford this weekend was still bigger news than the closing ceremony, in my book. But it’s hard to deny that from a sporting perspective this was a pretty amazing Games, with Phelps, Bolt and Team GB all breaking records. I hope our paralympians do as well (or better).

Given this, I’m glad that Amnesty’s strategy wasn’t to oppose China’s hosting of the Games. I wouldn’t have wanted to be an Olympics party-pooper, particularly when there’s so much good feeling going around the UK about our gold medal haul.

Sadly from a work point of view though, it’s been pretty dismal – none of the human rights improvements that were promised has taken place. The ‘Protest Parks’ were beyond a joke, with no-one seemingly allowed to protest in them and two 70-year-olds among those arrested just for applying for permission to hold a protest. There were reports last week that more protesters had been shot in Tibet, and the Times carried a story about a Tibetan blogger who was arrested just for taking photos of Lhasa.

Amnesty issued a fairly no-holds-barred statement at the end of the Games, saying that the Chinese authorities have damaged the Olympics legacy and prioritised style over substance at the Games. Other human rights organisations said very much the same.

What will be interesting to see now – and Amnesty will be watching closely – is what happens after the Games are all over. Will the government rescind the very limited freedoms that were granted to journalists? What will happen to the people that tried to hold protests? And will anyone here in Britain care? I’ve got a horrible feeling that ‘China fatigue’ will kick in pretty quickly among the UK media. Certainly the Games have shone a spotlight on China and its human rights record, but I fear it will go back into the shadows very quickly.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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