Let the Games commence
After years of waiting (and campaigning) it all kicks off in China in a couple of hours. If you watch or listen to the BBC, you’d think that nothing else was happening in the world but the Beijing Olympics – I think BBC journalists who haven’t been posted to Beijing must really feel they have done something wrong.
Overall I’m pleased that human rights is right at the centre of the media agenda. The Guardian’s leader today describes this as “the human rights Olympics” and even Olympics minister Tessa Jowell has had a comment on human rights dragged out of her. It’s a truly disappointing comment, typifying the UK government’s stance on the issue – a failure to criticise publicly human rights failings but an insistence that there have been steps forward; and a reference to the need for continued engagement to ensure progress. Hardly robust criticism of a government that has locked up its critics ahead of the Olympics. And there’s even something faintly sinister about Ms Jowell’s reference to getting “things get smartened up and more acceptable for the Olympics” – some of that 'smartening up' has involved throwing undesirables into ‘re-education through labour’ camps without trial.
In contrast, it’s nice to be able to say something positive about George W Bush for a change – at least his condemnation of the Chinese authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression was strong and public. As for the stock response from the Chinese authorities – ‘don’t meddle in the internal affairs of another nation’ – they perhaps need reminding that when you promise the world to improve human rights, you can’t expect them to stay quiet when you don’t keep your word.
Needless to say, there have been scores of protests around the world. There’s one (not Amnesty’s) outside the London embassy at 1.30 today; police in Nepal and India have arrested lots of people (and been a bit heavy-handed) during pro-Tibet protests; and RSF have done pirate radio broadcasts from within China – which I have to say I thought was quite a cool idea.
The big questions, of course, are whether there will be any significant protests within China and what the Chinese authorities will do about them. Chinese activist (and survivor of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and all-round good guy) Shao Jiang is discussing this on the Telegraph site today.
All in all, I’m glad the waiting’s over. Now let’s see what happens next.
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