Torchure (get it?)

The 100-day countdown to the Beijing Olympics starts today and to mark it we’ve released the first of four brilliant animated films and a shiny new Human Rights for China website.

The first film’s called Torchure (get it?) and highlights the Chinese authorities’ clampdown on peaceful protests ahead of the Games – but in a more accessible way, with cute cartoon characters competing in the Olympics (and getting into trouble for protesting about human rights).

Almost as if they wanted to illustrate our point, the Chinese authorities sentenced 30 protesters to prison terms yesterday, after they were, according to Human Rights Watch, “tried on secret evidence behind closed doors and without the benefit of a meaningful defence by lawyers they'd chosen." Interestingly though, today's Metro described it as an open trial attended by over 200 people.

Now, from what little media coverage was allowed out of Tibet, we know that there were some violent protests in which property was destroyed and people were killed. And the Chinese authorities are entitled (in fact expected) to uphold the law and punish those responsible, like any other government. But that has to be after a fair trial; and those violent protests mustn’t be used to justify a clampdown on the peaceful protests which also appear to have taken place at the same time.

It’s not just restricted to Tibet, either. There’s a growing clampdown on activists and protesters in mainland China, with people who speak out put under house arrest or sentenced to prison terms for ‘inciting subversion’.

Ye Guozhu, for example, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment in December 2004 for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" after he applied for official permission to hold a public demonstration against forced evictions in Beijing. He had been evicted from his home and his family restaurant had been destroyed to make way for Olympic venues. Since then he has (reportedly) been tortured with electroshock batons in prison. You can take action to help him here.

The Guardian has a great story today about another man protesting forced evictions by holing up in his house – now standing alone in the middle of a building site – and threatening to set fire to the place his family and anyone who tries to evict him. I hope the media keeps an eye on what happens to him, as I can’t see the story ending happily.

And Reuters reports today that Hong Kong has refused access to several activists ahead of the Olympic torch relay, including sculptor Jens Galschiot.

Finally, speaking of animations, I went to see Persepolis on Monday night, the new animated film about a young woman growing up in Iran (and Austria). It’s great. To be honest after a hard day at the coalface of human rights I can’t usually face a ‘film about issues’ but this isn’t one – it’s just a really funny, touching, well-made film. It just happens to take place against a background of war, revolution repression and exile, that’s all.

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