Elderly neighbours arrested at Olympic protest zone

August 23, 2008

So the Olympics is nearly over.

Didn’t see much of it myself but I did manage to catch Usain Bolt’s remarkable world records.

China’s hosting of the Games has been controversial.

At the start, pro Tibetan protesters unfurled banners at the Birds Nest stadium. As foreigners they were deported.

The Chinese government has allowed for 3 protest zones – away from the Olympic action – for the Chinese to complain during the Olympics. Protesters though have been largely absent as virtually all protests – they have to be applied for – have been refused. And any protestors that speak to foreign media are being arrested.

Two elderly neighbours, Wang Xiuying and Wu Dianyuan, wished to use the protest zone to complain about their forced eviction from their homes in 2001, and tried to get permits four times from the authorities.

Both protesters are nearly eighty. Mrs Wang is nearly blind, registered disabled and does not have electricity in her new home. Both Mrs Wang and Mrs Wu walk with the aid of a stick.

When they turned up at the zones they were arrested.

Chinese pensioners arrested

Now these two elderly women have been sentenced to a year’s “re-education through labour” for their troubles.

Basically a year in a prison camp with hard labour. Although the Chinese government are now saying they will serve their sentence without being incarcerated, probably due to the international attention over the Olympics.

What a way to remember the Olympics!

It just goes to show that the Olympics still are one of the most political events in the world.

One World One Dream Free Tibet

August 7, 2008

When I was writing yesterday’s blog just a few minutes after midnight and reported the video log of the Tibetan protests – almost as it happened – outside the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, I had no idea who was doing the protest.

On a previous blog, I had outlined just how much pressure the Scottish Government was giving China over its human rights record and the Tibetan situation.

So it was with pride that I found out one of the Tibet protesters was a Scot, continuing Scotland’s record of standing up for human rights and Tibet.

Iain Thom, a worker for Friends of the Earth – on a leave of absence – and former National Convenor of Students for Free Tibet in the UK, from Edinburgh; Phil Bartell, Lucy Marion Fairbrother, and Tirian Mink were the activists involved.

Iain climbed up a pole outside the Olympic Stadium placing a ‘One World, One Dream, Free Tibet’ banner at the top. He then phoned America’s ABC News to give details of his protest.

One World One Dream Free Tibet

“We did this action today to highlight the Chinese Government’s use of the Beijing Olympics as a propaganda tool. They are whitewashing their human rights record on Tibet, so our action today shines a spotlight on those atrocities.

“In March, Tibetans took to the streets, risking everything in their calls for justice and human rights, and we stand today, with this action, in solidarity with those calls.”

“I’ll probably get detained by the police and then ejected out of the country but I believe it’s not anywhere near the risk or the fear that Tibetans are living under the occupation of the Chinese government,” he said.

His parents were reportedly proud and understanding.

The Daily Mail profiles Iain and also Lucy, from Cambridge here.

A profile of Phil Bartell can be found on the Colorado Daily.

Tirian Mink has a website here. It has the tagline ‘Very soon this will all seem like a dream, and reality will be something completely different.’

One ESPN reporter trying to photograph the protest ran into trouble with bystanders:

“I then went back to the bottom of the hill and took more pictures. By that point, a fire truck pulled up and moved a cherry picker up the pole to try to bring down the protester. The same civilian came down the hill and started screaming at me again. Some of the onlookers joined in, and I was circled by people who started pushing and shoving me, screaming and pointing to the stadium. I never got hit or punched, but I was definitely physically accosted. I was trying to be smart about it and I wasn’t hitting anyone, but I kept yelling, “Media! Press!”

Then, someone came up from behind me, someone I believe was an American. He was holding a camera and said, “Hey, buddy. This is going to get ugly; you should get out of here.”

The Chinese public seem to be all for the Games, and see it as a promotion of their country. Any protests just distract that.

Yet if China had a good human rights record and Tibet was liberated, none of these protests would be happening.

Then everyone could enjoy the Olympics.

Denial doesn’t help.

Repression is not an Olympic Sport

August 6, 2008

I’m going to follow up my piece yesterday on the Olympics, as there have just been reports of Tibetan activists raising the Tibetan flag in Beijing’s Olympic village.

Of course, authorities were on the scene in minutes and arrested the protestors.

One video logger was on the scene and tried to record the images but was moved away from the area.

But you can still see his commentary here.

Seeing those images really brings it home how intolerant the Chinese officals are of any sort of protest.

Its definitely not the same, but British nationals may be sharing the same fate as the Tibetan protestors by taking their national flags over instead of the Union Flag.

It makes me wonder why the IOC ever chose China as host country to begin with.

The political situation was always going to overshadow the run up to the Beijing Games.

The Miami Herald has an article detailing the political history of the Olympics and the failures of the IOC.

We can only hope of an trouble free games and when the sport starts China’s political unrest doesn’t spoil the spectacle.

The Chinese security clampdown has already begun.

Home nations flags banned at Olympics

August 5, 2008

So it seems that fans won’t be able to fly the saltire at the Olympic Games in China.

This is the relevant ruling on the Chinese Olympic website:

“2. To avoid delays at security and to maintain an orderly flow, please DO NOT bring the following articles to any venue:… flags of non-members of the Olympics or Paralympics; flags or banners larger than 2 m x 1 m; flagpoles; any banners, slogans, fliers, brochures or samples.”

As Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland combine into one team, only the Union flag will be allowed into the games.

Obviously this is a Chinese attempt to stop any Tibetan flags flying at the games, but it impinges on the Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish fans rights to support their own separate nationalities.

The Tibetan flag

Obviously the Chinese are sensitive about the Tibetan situation and their human rights record, but should the British Olympic Association be enforcing this rule too, in relation to the Home Nations flags?

It wasn’t so long ago that skier Alain Baxter was banned from wearing his saltire haircut. Will they ban Andy Murray’s trademark saltire wristbands too?

The Scottish Parliament has a good record of protest on China’s human rights and Tibet.

It has a Tibetan rights group that has cross party support, convened by Liberal Democrat Mike Pringle.

Jack McConnell, as First Minister, raised questions over China’s poor human rights record on his 2004 visit.

The Dalai Lama visited Scotland in 2005 as part of a World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet.

Mike Pringle as convenor of the Tibet group put forward a motion in the Scottish Parliament deploring China’s actions:

That the Parliament deplores the Chinese Government’s violent suppression of recent democratic protests by the people of Tibet, which has been controlled by the Chinese Government since a military assault in 1950; commends calls by the Dalai Lama for an international fact-finding mission to be sent to Tibet to investigate the causes of the protests and the actual situation in Tibet under Chinese rule, and reminds China, as host of the 2008 Olympic Games, that it should look to improve human rights and religious freedom in Tibet.

This had cross party support from the majority of backbenchers in the Scottish Parliament.

And when Fiona Hyslop went to China in April this year – a trip supported by the Dalai Lama – promoting Aberdeen University as Education Secretary she wasted no time in letting China know how Scotland feels about its human rights violations.

“Fiona Hyslop did take the first opportunity she had on the first day of her visit to China to raise the Scottish Government’s concerns about human-rights issues in discussion with China’s vice minister of education.”

The Scottish stance is supported by Amnesty International’s Scottish programme director, John Watson. He believes “engagement can provide the opportunity to push for exchange”.

I believe the Scottish Parliament is taking a much firmer stance on this issue than Westminster.

The saltire ban did make me think of fifth columnist George Foulkes again, who recently got hot under the collar about the new train logos.

In 1990 as a Labour backbencher he is quoted in Hansard:

“Whatever one’s view of Tibetan autonomy claims, and there may be differing views in the House, there can be no excuse for such repression and brutality.”

Possibly pro-Tibet there, I think.

But later as Overseas Development Minister in 1997 he pretty much backed the Government’s fudged position as to not offend China:

“We believe that we can best assist the people of Tibet through small-scale projects that respond directly to the needs of local communities.”

though he eventually gave this response after questioning:

“The Government are concerned about human rights in the whole of China, including Tibet, and we shall continue to raise our concerns directly with the Government of China, both bilaterally and in international forums.”

When George was Overseas Development Minister it seemed a bit more softly, softly to me.

I guess at best Lord Foulkes position on Tibet is unclear. Certainly he was one of the few backbenchers not to support the Tibet motion in the Scottish Parliament.

As a former Overseas Development Minister at Westminster his name was conspicious by its absence.

Maybe George will be delighted that the saltire will be banned at the Olympics?

Here's a Scottish saltire, George!

In which case, does he similarly support the banning of Tibetan flags?

While I was writing this, I stumbled across this blog which puts the Tibet issue from the Chinese viewpoint:

“Promoting independence of Tibet from China is infringing China’s sovereignty. Tibet is part of China, just like Scotland is part of United Kingdom. If China started supporting the Scottish Separatist movement, I am sure UK will be really unhappy too.

Separatist movement are not well tolerated throughout history, just look at Easter Rising (1916) in Ireland, many civilians were killed, 15 separatist leaders were executed, 3000 political prisoners were put behind bars by the British. Unfortunately, the reality is suppression of separatist movements are equally harsh all over the world.”

There are a few things I could say on this, but the crucial one is the UK is a democracy and Scottish people can vote for independence parties if they want too. The SNP are in Government in Scotland, for instance, and the public await the promised Independence Referendum in 2010.

I don’t see the same freedoms applied to China and the Tibetan people.

Flying our flags is a bare minimum of our freedoms.