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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

China - Orwell's dream come true

August 26, 2008

By NICK VENTER
The Dominion Post
August 25, 2008

The Beijing Olympics can be encapsulated by the stories of four
people: Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying.

Phelps and Bolt are the names China and the International Olympic
Committee would like you to remember; Wu and Wang the ones they would
prefer you to forget.

Mrs Wu, 79, and Mrs Wang, 77, were evicted from their homes near
Tianamen Square in 2001 to make way for a new development. Both walk
with the aid of canes. Mrs Wang is blind in one eye. According to the
New York Times, neither has ever spoken out against the government.

But when Chinese authorities said demonstrators would be allowed to
protest at three specially designated parks during the Olympics, the
pair, who have been shifted to ramshackle apartments on the outskirts
of Beijing, applied to the Municipal Public Security Bureau for a
permit to demonstrate. On their first visit to the bureau they were
interrogated for 10 hours.

Undeterred they returned, five times in all, till on their last visit
they were informed that they were no longer eligible to protest
because they had been sentenced to a year's re-education through
labour for "disturbing the peace". Their crime: applying for permits
to protest.

It's the sort of logic that would have appealed to George Orwell, the
creator of one of the best-known lines in political satire: "All
animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." He
would probably also have appreciated the press briefings at which
Beijing Olympic organising committee spokesman Wang Wei and IOC
spokeswoman Giselle Davies tried to justify the unjustifiable.

The briefings began with a veneer of respectability but descended
into farce as it gradually became apparent to everyone, including Ms
Davies, that Chinese authorities had no intention of honouring two of
the promises they gave to secure the Games - that protest would be
allowed and that foreign media would be free to report whatever they chose.

For reporters covering the Games themselves, the facilities have been
superb: easy access to and from venues, smooth transport system,
wireless internet connections allowing them to file stories without
leaving their seats, and an army of smiling volunteers constantly on
hand to assist.

But for those trying to investigate China's handling of human rights
issues and Tibet it's been a different story. On Thursday, two
Associated Press photographers covering a protest by pro-Tibetan
activists were roughed up by plainclothes security officers, forced
into cars and taken to a nearby building, where they were questioned
before being released.

Memory cards from their cameras were confiscated. The week before, a
British television reporter was detained by police when he tried to
cover a protest by pro-Tibetan foreigners.

Sorry, said Mr Wang. Police mistook the AP photographers for protesters.

His finest hour came when he was asked if Western reporters were free
to visit Tibet.

"Of course the media are free to go to Tibet," he said. "But as you
know due to the recent riots that are happening in Tibet there is a
limitation not only for the media but also for the general public to
go to Tibet. So I think maybe you need approval, but in general the
media in the past and the present and the future are free to go to Tibet."

Translation: you cannot go to Tibet.

Ms Davies' smile - an artifice as impressive as the grins
synchronised swimmers maintain under water - cracked. The IOC did not
comment on countries' sovereign issues, she said.

What did the IOC think about the fact that not one of the 77 groups
that had applied for permission to stage a protest had been granted it?

"The IOC would have liked to have seen the protest zones genuinely
being used but it's not an area that falls within our direct remit,"
she said through clenched teeth.

That was as close as the IOC came to publicly criticising China.

The odd thing was that this charade was not played out in a grey,
authoritarian environment but in a lively, bustling city.

Beijing's inhabitants are not a cowed or sullen people. Shoppers can
buy T-shirts that poke gentle fun at the government. The Bird's Nest
stadium and the Water Cube are bold, exciting buildings that speak to
the power of the human imagination, and glittering high- rises tell
of their owners' individuality and ambition.

At her final press briefing Ms Davies said the IOC had no doubt it
had made the right decision to give the 2008 Olympics to Beijing. The
Games had helped the country to open up and to develop.

Everywhere you look there is evidence that that is true. But the
cases of Mrs Wu and Mrs Wang demonstrate that China still has a long
way to go till its people enjoy the rights and freedoms it says they do.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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