China must fail to suppress dissenters by underground

I was wrong when I wrote an opinion piece for AUT’s student paper TWN, which I also posted here, where I argued that the 2008 Olympics would focus the world’s attention on China and their human rights abuses. I believed that although the Chinese officials would use the games to promote the countries recent advances to world, activists could also hijack the Olympics to highlight the restrictions placed on protesters, the media, ethnic and religious groups. For the first week of the games this was the games. Despite the extravagant opening ceremony, incredible stadiums and well organised events, much of the early media coverage was also on the daily difficulties of the media in reporting non-sports and non-cultural articles. However, once Phelps-mania and Bolt-mania set in, the attention was solely on the sports and now long after the games nothing has happened, no one really cares. The world’s short attention span means we can focus on one international story at a time, and right now that is the credit crunch and the US elections.

So China won the propaganda war of the Olympics. But once again there is a chance to highlight the plight of dissenters in China, the Nobel Prize.

Two jailed Chinese dissenters are on this year’s list of potential prize winners. Of course the Chinese authorities are strongly opposed to their nomination, hoping that the “right person” will be awarded the prize.

From BBC News:

The Chinese foreign ministry said some past choices had gone against the prize’s original purpose of promoting world peace and human progress.

The award went to the Dalai Lama 19 years ago, and dissidents Hu Jia and Gao Zhisheng are on this year’s list.

The two men are strong candidates:

Of the nearly 200 nominees for the Peace Prize, Hu Jia is seen as the most likely contender.

A democracy and Aids activist, Mr Hu is the best-known of China’s imprisoned dissidents.

He is credited with chronicling instances of abuse and alerting both fellow Chinese human rights activists and foreign news organisations.

He was convicted last April of inciting subversion, and is now serving a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence.

His wife has been placed under house arrest.

Gao Zhisheng, another strong candidate, is a writer and self-trained lawyer who defended Chinese citizens against the state, including members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Mr Gao has been beaten, harassed and given a suspended jail sentence in the last few years.

He was also reportedly targeted by an assassination attempt.

He has not been seen since he was taken from his home in September 2007 – although it has been alleged that he was tortured and has attempted suicide.

These men are not the deserving candidates on the list; understandably Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai and the Cluster Munitions Coalition. Of course there are no end to the outstanding activists of the world who deserve the prize and could do with the world’s attention to the plight of those they selflessly serve. If either Gao or Hu win this year, hopefully the world’s attention will return to China and more pressure can be placed on the country. The question of China could feature in the American election, for example, with candidates debating how to deal with the malevolent superpower of Asia. However I’ve been wrong before, so I won’t hold my breath.


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