Pre-Olympic Press Roundup
If you've been watching the pre-Olympic press as we have, you may have noticed the recent rush of reports about tightened security in Beijing and the outrageous measures the Communist Party is taking to ensure that it is the only party in town come Aug 8. Below we've collected highlights (lowlights?) from some of the news just to help put it all in perspective. This is definitely not the Olympic spirit.
Olympic Supporters Face Banner Blackout
The Age (Australia), July 16
All banners and large flags have been banned from Beijing Olympic venues.
Musical instruments, whistles and flash photography have also been banned.
Australian Olympic swimmer Craig Stevens said: "It's just going over the top. The rules are just getting stricter and stupider… You want to see as much support as you can in the crowd because as swimmers you can't hear much. It's going to be strange in the stands."
Journos Come to Grips with Reporting Restrictions
Sunday Star Times (NZ), July 20
For instance, interview a Chinese national in the street without a proper form and you could be thrown in jail for up to 72 hours without anyone notifying your employer, your family or the New Zealand government.
Write too many stories with words or phrases such as "Tibet", "human rights abuse" or "Falun Gong" and you can expect to be a person of interest for the Chinese secret service. China's surveillance experts will filter all outgoing emails for such key words which will be red-flagged and traced back to the laptop that generated them. And the GSM network can be slowed down to monitor outgoing phone call and texts as well.
China: 'Strike hard' against beliefs
From a document obtained by Amnesty International
“We must make efforts to create a harmonious society and a good social environment for successfully holding the 17th Communist Party Congress and the Beijing Olympic Games […] We must strike hard at hostile forces at home and abroad, such as ethnic separatists, religious extremists, violent terrorists and ‘heretical organizations’ like the Falun Gong who carry out destabilizing activities."
Zhou Yongkang, Minister of Public Security, November 2007
Thousands of Falun Gong Adherents Arrested throughout China in Run Up to Olympics
Falun Dafa Information Center Report, July 7, giving details of mass arrests since the above mentioned “strike hard” campaign began:
In recent months, the Falun Dafa Information Center (FDI) has received regular reports from adherents and their families inside China of door-to-door searches and arrests. According to statistics compiled from these reports, there have been at least 8,037 arrests of Falun Gong adherents across 29 provinces, major cities and autonomous regions since December 2007.
“The Olympics are being taken as an excuse to put them behind bars for years... A large percentage of people have already been sent to labor camps. The dozens currently filling Beijng’s detention centers are at grave risk of wrongful sentencing and torture.”
FDI spokesperson Erping Zhang.
China jails more Tibetan protesters
Taipei Times, July 12
The article quotes as its source Xinhua, the state-controlled news agency, seen as the mouthpiece of the Communist regime:
China is offering rewards up to 500,000 yuan ($73,000) to anyone who provides information on major security threats during the Olympic Games.
The rewards aim to "mobilize the enthusiasm of the masses in maintaining public security, as well as to control and eliminate hidden dangers to the Olympic Games."
Examples of what police are looking for include information on planned terrorist attacks, sabotage by illegal organizations such as Falun Gong, and killings of Olympic-related people and foreigners, Xinhua reported.
Canwest News Service, July 18
Traffic was backed up for two kilometers on expressways and national highways leading into Beijing city centre as every car was thoroughly searched. It was a 20-minute job for each vehicle.
This is the second layer of a security plan that already includes hundreds of checkpoints on every road leading into the capital from Hebei, the neighbouring province that hugs Beijing.
The third phase, which will be implemented soon, calls for security checkpoints on major downtown streets.
Beijing games use-by date nears
The Age (Australia), July 15
For aspiring foreign visitors, the national lock-down hits them as soon as they approach a Chinese embassy or consulate for a visa. Businessmen who travel here every month are suddenly barred. Some tourists who have bought Olympics tickets can't get in. Scores of four- and five-star hotels that were built to host hundreds of thousands of guests for China's coming-out party are less than half-full and look like staying that way.
Olympics Party Disrupts Life for Beijingers
Iter Press Service (IPS), July 14
There was a lot of talk about Olympics economy and how small private entrepreneurs like me would benefit from the arrival of foreign visitors but now we are told to close shop and stay home at least until the games are finished," laments Wang Xingfei whose garments shop was shut down because it was deemed ‘unbecoming’ and ‘insecure’.
From construction companies to cement producers and house decoration teams, the hosting of the Olympic games by the capital is exacting a heavy toll. To purify the air and clean up the environment the Beijing government has suspended hundreds of thousands of projects and told noisy and polluting industries to take a long break. Thousands of migrant workers have been sent home.
Even if we could get away with doing some small building jobs in the coming two months we couldn’t do it because no trucks with construction materials and cement will be allowed to enter the city," says Shao, a building contractor who wants only his family name used.
China Asks Japan for Information on Falun Gong Members Ahead of Olympics
istockAnalyst, July 17
Chinese public security authorities have asked Japan to provide information on Japan-based members of the Falun Gong, a spiritual group banned in China, ahead of the Beijing Olympics, sources close to Japan-China ties said Thursday.
The Japanese government has rejected the request, which included a list of the group's members, citing protection of information on individuals, according to the sources.
US lawmakers consider Olympic rights message to China
AFP, July 24
WASHINGTON (AFP) — US lawmakers Wednesday accused China of reneging on a commitment to improve human rights when it won the right to host the Olympics, saying it had instead intensified a crackdown on dissent.
"There were early indications that China was prepared to improve its behavior as the games approached," said Howard Berman, the Democratic head of the House of Representatives foreign affairs panel.
But "the hope was short-lived, as China failed to honor these commitments," he said, citing as examples Beijing's "failed" pledges to allow greater press freedoms and improve its general human rights situation.
China’s Guerrilla War for the Web
Far Eastern Economic Review, July 2008
They have been called the “Fifty Cent Party,” the “red vests” and the “red vanguard.” But China’s growing armies of Web commentators—instigated, trained and financed by party organizations—have just one mission: to safeguard the interests of the Communist Party by infiltrating and policing a rapidly growing Chinese Internet. They set out to neutralize undesirable public opinion by pushing pro-Party views through chat rooms and Web forums, reporting dangerous content to authorities.
By some estimates, these commentary teams now comprise as many as 280,000 members nationwide, and they show just how serious China’s leaders are about the political challenges posed by the Web.
China’s Culture Ministry now regularly holds training sessions for Web commentators, who are required to pass an exam before being issued with job certification.
“The goal of the government is to crank up the ‘noise’ and drown out progressive and diverse voices on China’s Internet,” says Isaac Mao, a Chinese Web entrepreneur and expert on social media. “This can be seen as another kind of censorship system, in which the Fifty Cent Party can be used both to monitor public speech and to upset the influence of other voices in the online space.”
Chinese Authorities Vow to Thwart Threats to Olympics
Washington Post, July 24
"[We must] resolutely prevent severe violence and terrorist incidents, resolutely prevent severe political incidents that could affect state security and social stability and resolutely prevent large-scale mass incidents to make sure the objective of a safe Olympic Games is reached."
Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu to the People's Armed Police troops and officers gathered on July 23 at the corps' Beijing headquarters.
Meng's exhortation to the lined-up People's Armed Police was seen as particularly important because these troops will be the main security forces on the ground during the Olympics, dealing with athletes, spectators, tourists and journalists as well as would-be protesters. His tone suggested that the troops, if they take their cue from him, are likely to approach their task on the streets of Beijing with an unbending attitude.
Tibetan independence sympathizers, human rights activists, practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual exercise movement and critics of China's Darfur policy have been singled out by Chinese security officials as the most likely foreigners to try to hold street demonstrations or unfurl banners in front of television cameras during the Games. In that light, visa applications have been screened with particular care, including bans on visits by foreigners who Chinese consular officials fear might try to harm China's image. Chinese authorities acknowledged Thursday they also have further tightened controls over business visas, declining to issue invitation documents until September.
Athletes under pressure to stage a protest on the podium
Vancouver Sun, July 24
The Chinese government has made it clear that security is paramount. There are 100,000 police and military officers in Beijing with missile launchers at the main Olympic venues.
On Wednesday, the government announced three protest "pens" will be set up. But only groups with permits will be allowed in and, since political protests are illegal, it's unlikely that Free Tibet rallies, Falun Gong demonstrations or protests against China's involvement in Darfur will be sanctioned.