A chill runs through Chinese civil society: activists, journalists and academics denounce having received police warnings and censorship on their social networks in recent weeks, while Beijing was preparing to host the Winter Olympics that began this Friday.
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In mid-January, Beijing-based human rights activist Hu Jia said in a Tweet that the Chinese state security apparatus was summoning activists from across the country for questioning and warning them to keep quiet.
Writer Zhang Yihe and prominent journalist Gao Yu said they had lost some or all of their access to WeChat, the main social network in China. Academics such as Guo Yuhua, a sociologist at Tsinghua University, and He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, denounced similar problems.
In anticipation of the Games, authorities have arrested two prominent human rights activists: lawyer Xie Yang and writer Yang Maodong. They remain held on suspicion of having “incited the subversion of the State.” A third human rights lawyer, Tang Jitian, disappeared in December while on his way to a European Union Human Rights Day event in Beijing.
According to analysts and activists, this type of behavior on the part of the Chinese government may constitute a habitual ritual within the framework of any major event, but the 2022 Winter Olympics is the largest international event that China has held in the world. the last years.
“There’s nothing really unexpected about this,” says Wang Yaqiu, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, adding that the Chinese Communist Party was concerned that online criticism by Chinese citizens might ruin “the facade of China.” the perfect Games.
While not unexpected, Beijing’s strategy for this year’s Games is even stricter than the one implemented during the 2008 Olympics, when Wang was a college student.
“Back then, we could criticize the Olympics, today nobody can say anything,” he says. Wang adds that he has seen a notable increase in the number of Chinese citizens reporting his social media posts missing.
Hu agrees with Wang. “Right now, when it comes to sensitive issues inside China, ‘Winter Olympics’ is the most important, second only to ‘Xi Jinping,'” Hu says. “No criticism from citizens is being allowed,” he says.
The disappearance of Peng Shuai
These Games have been the most criticized internationally since the 2014 Winter Games, held in the Russian city of Sochi. Russia’s suppression of LGBT rights has drawn criticism and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled on the matter on that occasion.
This year, the IOC has not leveled any criticism at Beijing. Its president, Thomas Bach, has been accused by critics of aiding China in its efforts to silence tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared in November last year after accusing a senior communist official of sexual harassment.
Bach spoke to Peng via video conference after worldwide protests erupted and short videos of Peng appeared to be staged. Afterward, Bach repeated that Peng was fine, despite questions about her release that remain unanswered.
“At least during Sochi, the IOC spoke out in favor of LGBT rights,” says Wang. “Now they are part of the Chinese government’s propaganda machine,” he says. Dick Pound, a senior IOC official, has qualified of “stupid” the accusations that the organization is collaborating with the propaganda of the Communist Party.
Hu, who was jailed for his activism during the 2008 Games, says he is disappointed at what he sees as the IOC’s complicity in human rights abuses in China and the legitimacy of the Communist Party. This disappointment was amplified by the fact that a previous Olympic Games helped neighboring South Korea move from dictatorship to democracy. Seoul hosted the 1988 Games.
“I was arrested in 2008 and spent three and a half years in prison. At that time I hoped that the Olympic spirit of openness, equality and peace would drive democratization in China, as it did in South Korea in 1988,” says Hu.
Instead, the legitimacy and prestige of the 2008 Beijing Games emboldened the Communist Party, which has since cracked down on dissent in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. “The human rights abuses linked to the Beijing Winter Olympics are much worse than those linked to the Games 14 years ago,” says Hu.
Translation of Julian Cnochaert.