If human rights was an Olympic event

Appearances are very important, especially when it comes to politics. That’s why anyone doing PR for the People’s Republic of China has probably been working overtime for months, if not years, in preparation for the Summer 2008 Olympics.

The 2001 announcement that Beijing would host the Olympics met mixed reactions. Obviously, the people and government of China were overjoyed. They lost the 1993 bid for the 2000 games to Sydney by only two votes. The athletes from the country performed incredibly well in 2000, coming in third in the overall medal count. By those facts alone, the most populous country in the world was certainly a deserving potential host.

On the other hand, China has an abysmal record when it comes to human rights. The government imprisons political dissidents, suppresses speech and the press and has tight control of religious freedom, especially in Tibet.

International attention has pressured China into making a great deal of improvements. The government has done so — at least on the surface. Because the state controls domestic media and limits foreign journalists’ coverage, it’s difficult to know what the government is actually doing.

The rest of the world received conflicting reports on the crackdown of Tibetans protesting against Chinese rule back in March. Whether Tibet was ever part of China isn’t the point right now. Even just a few days ago, Chinese riot police killed Tibetan protesters after the peaceful demonstration turned violent. It’s impossible to tell what is the truth because Chinese law limits what foreign journalists can cover. Given that many Tibetans are Buddhist, the likelihood that any Tibetan protester became violent or physically threatened another person’s life is highly doubtful.

Even in the improvements the government makes, it still has a negative effect on its people. Just to illustrate, The New York Times reported last August that in order to give an area slated for commercial and residential projects a more modern look, it was going to relocate an unknown number of people. While other countries may have done the same for past Olympics, the Times reported an estimated 1.5 million people would be moved for all Olympic construction plans.

Most Americans get upset when a city council uses eminent domain to take part of their lawn to widen the street. Imagine losing your house so another, more glamorous house can be built.

The Olympics won’t give the rest of the world a chance to see what is going on in China. The government is covering everything up. They will put down any protest, arrest anyone who speaks out and whitewash any problem. Then, after the world’s attention turns elsewhere, the status quo will most likely settle back in. We shouldn’t let that happen. Write letters to your senators and representatives in Congress. Tell them they need to continue putting more pressure on China. Things cannot return to normal after the Olympics. Too many people’s lives are at stake.

Remember the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Hitler and his government hid everything. While the rest of the world already knew of Nazi Germany’s politics, they couldn’t see the worst of it. We’re not saying The People’s Republic of China is on the same level of the Nazis. Our point is it’s very easy to be a political chameleon.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.