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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Don't Let China Silence Protest

August 13, 2008

The New Republic
August 11, 2008

This column was written by The Editors. Even before the opening
ceremonies, the Olympics got off to a bad start for the United
States: The U.S. women's soccer team, ranked number one in the world,
looked uninspired in an upset loss to Norway. At least the American
soccer players were allowed to enter China, though. The same cannot
be said of Joey Cheek, the American speed-skating gold medalist who
planned on attending the Olympics as a spectator and co-founder of
Team Darfur, an international coalition of athletes that promotes
awareness of the Darfur genocide. The day before he was set to leave
for Beijing, Cheek was notified by Chinese authorities that his visa
had been revoked.

The snubbing of Cheek is part of a predictable pattern. At least
three other members of Team Darfur, including 2004 synchronized
swimming bronze medalist Kendra Zanotto, have also had their visas
revoked. Meanwhile, two American and two British citizens were
arrested and deported for unfurling a pro-Tibet banner outside the
Olympic stadium.

If the Chinese government insists on preventing athletes, spectators,
and activists from making political statements during the Olympics,
it is incumbent upon those competing in the games to respond
appropriately. We're pleased to observe that some are already
distinguishing themselves in this regard. Forty Olympic athletes have
signed an open letter to President Hu Jintao urging China to improve
its human rights record, and German fencer Imke Duplitzer, a silver
medalist four years ago, announced she would skip the opening
ceremonies in protest. Also impressive was the decision by the
American delegation to have runner Lopez Lomong carry the U.S. flag
at the opening ceremonies. Lomong, a member of Team Darfur, is a
Sudanese native who was taken from his parents by rebels at the age
of six, grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya, was adopted by a family
in upstate New York, and became an American citizen last July after
attending Northern Arizona University.

These are the kinds of actions we envisioned when we called upon
athletes to make their voices heard during the Olympics ("Gold
Meddle," October 22, 2007), and we hope there will be many more --
and more vocal -- political statements made by athletes during the
course of the games. It would also be nice if the International
Olympic Committee and American Olympic officials could see fit to
defend the free-speech rights of their athletes. "He's not part of
our delegation," U.S. Olympic Committee CEO James Scherr said in
response to Cheek's visa revocation, which he described as being
"between the [Chinese] government and Joey as a private citizen." On
the contrary, with the eyes of the world focused on Beijing, it's a
matter of the utmost public significance whether the Chinese
government succeeds in intimidating would-be protesters into silence.
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