The following open letter was written by human rights activists Teng Biao and Hu Jia. Mr. Jia was arrested by the Chinese government 3 months later for "incitement to subvert state power" and is still in prison today. This reproduction comes from the full translation text of last year's letter, released on the Human Rights Watch website this past Tuesday. To see the letter on HRW's website, click here.
September 10, 2007
The Real China and the Olympics
On July 13th 2001, when Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government promised the world it would improve China’s human rights record. In June 2004, Beijing announced its Olympic Games slogan, "One World, One Dream." From their inception in 1896, the modern Olympic Games have always had as their mission the promotion of human dignity and world peace. China and the world expected to see the Olympic Games bring political progress to the country. Is Beijing keeping its promises? Is China improving its human rights record?
When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing, you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people. You will see the truth, but not the whole truth, just as you see only the tip of an iceberg. You may not know that the flowers, smiles, harmony and prosperity are built on a base of grievances, tears, imprisonment, torture and blood.
We are going to tell you the truth about China. We believe that for anyone who wishes to avoid a disgraceful Olympics, knowing the truth is the first step. Fang Zheng, an excellent athlete who holds two national records for the discus throw at China's Special Sport Games, has been deprived of the opportunity to participate in the 2008 Paralympics because he has become a living testimony to the June 4, 1989 massacre. That morning, in Tiananmen Square, his legs were crushed by a tank while he was rescuing a fellow student. In April 2007, the Ministry of Public Security issued an internal document secretly strengthening a political investigation which resulted in forbidding Olympics participation by 43 types of people from 11 different categories, including dissidents, human rights defenders, media workers, and religious participants. The Chinese police never made the document known to either the Chinese public or the international community.
Huge investment in Olympic projects and a total lack of transparency have facilitated serious corruption and widespread bribery. Taxpayers are not allowed to supervise the use of investment amounting to more than US$40 billion. Liu Zhihua, formerly in charge of Olympic construction and former deputy mayor of Beijing, was arrested for massive embezzlement.
To clear space for Olympic-related construction, thousands of civilian houses have been destroyed without their former owners being properly compensated. Brothers Ye Guozhu and Ye Guoqiang were imprisoned for a legal appeal after their house was forcibly demolished. Ye Guozhu has been repeatedly handcuffed and shackled, tied to a bed and beaten with electric batons. During the countdown to the Olympic Games he will continue to suffer from torture in Chaobei Prison in Tianjin.
It has been reported that over 1.25 million people have been forced to move because of Olympic construction; it was estimated that the figure would reach 1.5 million by the end of 2007. No formal resettlement scheme is in place for the over 400,000 migrants who have had their dwelling places demolished. Twenty percent of the demolished households are expected to experience poverty or extreme poverty. In Qingdao, the Olympic sailing city, hundreds of households have been demolished and many human rights activists as well as "civilians" have been imprisoned. Similar stories come from other Olympic cities such as Shenyang, Shanghai and Qinhuangdao.
In order to establish the image of civilized cities, the government has intensified the ban against and detention and forced repatriation of petitioners, beggars and the homeless. Some of them have been kept in extended detention in so-called shelters or have even been sent directly to labor camps. Street vendors have suffered brutal confiscation of their goods by municipal agents. On July 20, 2005, Lin Hongying, a 56-year-old woman farmer and vegetable dealer, was beaten to death by city patrols in Jiangsu. On November 19, 2005, city patrols in Wuxi beat 54-year-old bicycle repairman Wu Shouqing to death. In January 2007, petitioner Duan Huimin was killed by Shanghai police. On July 1, 2007, Chen Xiaoming, a Shanghai petitioner and human rights activist, died of an untreated illness during a lengthy detention period. On August 5, 2007, right before the one-year Olympics countdown, 200 petitioners were arrested in Beijing.
China has consistently persecuted human rights activists, political dissidents and freelance writers and journalists. The blind activist Chen Guangcheng, recipient of the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award and named in 2006 by Time Magazine as one of the most influential 100 people shaping our world, is still serving his sentence of four years and three months for exposing the truth of forced abortion and sterilization. The government refused to give him the Braille books and the radio that his relatives and friends brought to Linyi prison in Shandong. Chen has been beaten while serving his sentence. On August 24, 2007, Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, was kidnapped by police at the Beijing airport while waiting to fly to the Philippines to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award on behalf of her husband. On August 13, 2007, activist Yang Chunlin was arrested in Heilongjiang and charged with subversion of state power "for initiating the petition ‘Human Rights before Olympics.’"
China still practices literary inquisition and holds the world record for detaining journalists and writers, as many as several hundred since 1989 according to incomplete statistics. As of this writing, 35 Chinese journalists and 51 writers are still in prison. Over 90 percent were arrested or tried after Beijing's successful bid for the Olympics in July 2001. For example, Shi Tao, a journalist and a poet, was sentenced to ten years in prison because of an e-mail sent to an overseas website. Dr. Xu Zerong, a scholar from Oxford University who researched the Korean War, was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for "illegally providing information abroad." Qingshuijun (Huang Jinqiu), a freelance writer, was sentenced to a 12-year term for his online publications. Some writers and dissidents are prohibited from going abroad; others from returning to China.
Every year in mainland China, countless websites are closed, blogs deleted, sensitive words filtered. Many websites hosted abroad are blocked. Overseas radio and television programs are interfered with or strictly prohibited. Although the Chinese government has promised media freedom for foreign journalists for 22 months, before, during, and after the Beijing Olympics, and ending on October 17, 2008, an FCCC (Foreign Correspondents Club in China) survey showed that 40 percent of foreign correspondents have experienced harassment, detention or an official warning during news gathering in Beijing and other areas. Some reporters have complained about repeated violent police interference at the time they were speaking with interviewees. Most seriously, Chinese interviewees usually become vulnerable as a result. In June 2006, Fu Xiancai was beaten and paralyzed after being interviewed by German media. In March 2007, Zheng Dajing was beaten and arrested after being interviewed by a British TV station.
Religious freedom is still under repression. In 2005, a Beijing pastor, Cai Zhuohua, was sentenced to three years for printing Bibles. Zhou Heng, a house church pastor in Xinjiang, was charged with running an "illegal operation" for receiving dozens of boxes of Bibles. From April to June 2007, China expelled over 100 suspected US, South Korean, Canadian, Australian, and other missionaries. Among them were humanitarian workers and language educators who had been teaching English in China for 15 years. During this so-called Typhoon 5 campaign, authorities took aim at missionary activities so as to prevent their recurrence during the Olympics.
On September 30, 2006, Chinese soldiers opened fire on 71 Tibetans who were escaping to Nepal. A 17-year-old nun died and a 20-year-old man was severely injured. Despite numerous international witnesses, the Chinese police insisted that the shooting was in self-defense. One year later, China tightened its control over the Tibetan Buddhism. A September 1, 2007, regulation requires all reincarnated lamas to be approved by Chinese authorities, a requirement that flagrantly interferes with the tradition of reincarnation of living Buddhas as practiced in Tibet for thousands of years. In addition, Chinese authorities still ban the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet and a world-renowned pacifist, from returning to Tibet.
Since 1999, the government has banned many religious beliefs such as Falungong and the Three Servants. Their followers have experienced extremely cruel and planned persecutions. Many died from abuse, suffered torture, brainwashing, imprisonment and labor camp internment for persisting in their faith, possessing religious books, making DVDs and writing articles to expose the truth of the persecution.
China has the highest death penalty rate in the world. Execution statistics are treated as "state secrets." However, experts estimate that 8,000-10,000 people are sentenced to death in China every year, among them not only criminals and economic convicts, but totally innocent citizens, such as Nie Shubin, Teng Xingshan, Cao Haixin and Hugejiletu, whose innocence was proven only after they were already dead.
Another eight innocent farmers, Chen Guoqing, He Guoqiang, Yang Shiliang, Zhu Yanqiang, Huang Zhixiang, Fang Chunping, Cheng Fagen and Cheng Lihe, who confessed their "crimes" after being cruelly tortured by the police, have been sentenced to death and are currently held in prisons in Hebei [province] and in Jingdezhen [in Jiangxi province].
Torture is very common in China's detention centers, labor camps and prisons. Torture methods include electric shock, burning, use of electric needles, beating and hanging, sleep deprivation, forced chemical injection causing nerve damage, and piercing the fingers with needles. Every year, there are reported cases of Chinese citizens being disabled or killed by police torture.
Labor camps are still retained as a convenient Chinese system which allows the police to lock up citizens without trial for up to four years. The detention system is another practice that the police favors, freeing them to detain citizens for six months to two years. Dissidents and human rights activists are particularly vulnerable targets and are often sent to labor camps, detention centers or even mental hospitals by authorities who want to simplify legal procedures and mislead the media.
China has the world's largest secret police system, the Ministry of National Security (guo an) and the Internal Security Bureau (guo bao) of the Ministry of Public Security, which exercise power beyond the law. They can easily tap telephones, follow citizens, place them under house arrest, detain them and impose torture. On June 3, 2004, the Chinese secret police planted drugs on Chongqing dissident Xu Wanping and later sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment for "subversion of state power."
Chinese citizens have no right to elect state leaders, local government officials or representatives. In fact, there has never been free exercise of election rights in township-level elections. Wuhan resident Sun Bu'er, a member of the banned political party the Pan-Blue Alliance, was brutally beaten in September 2006 for participating as an independent candidate during an election of county-level people's congress representatives. Mr Sun disappeared on March 23, 2007.
China continues to cruelly discriminate against its rural population. According to the Chinese election law, a farmer's right to vote is worth one quarter of that of an urban resident. In June 2007, the Shanxi kiln scandal was exposed by the media. Thousands of 8-13 year-old trafficked children had been forced to labor in illegal kilns, almost all with local government connections. Many of the children were beaten, tortured and even buried alive.
The Chinese judiciary still illegally forbids any HIV/AIDS lawsuits against government officials responsible for the tragedy. AIDS sufferers and activists have been constantly harassed by the secret police.
The Chinese government has been selling arms and weapons to Darfur and other African regions to support ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The Chinese authorities have forcibly repatriated North Korean refugees, knowing that they would be sent to labor camps or executed once back home. This significantly contravenes China's accession to the "Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees" and the "Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees."
• Please be aware that the Olympic Games will be held in a country where there are no elections, no freedom of religion, no independent courts, no independent trade unions; where demonstrations and strikes are prohibited; where torture and discrimination are supported by a sophisticated system of secret police; where the government encourages the violation of human rights and dignity, and is not willing to undertake any of its international obligations.
• Please consider whether the Olympic Games should coexist with religious persecution labor camps, modern slavery, identity discrimination, secret police and crimes against humanity.
As the Beijing Olympics slogan says, we live in "one world" with "one dream." We hope that one day the Chinese people will be able to share universal human rights, democracy and peace with people from all around the world. However, we can see that the Chinese government obviously is not yet prepared to honor its promise. As a matter of fact, the preparations for the Olympics have provided the perfect excuse for the Chinese government to restrict civil liberties and suppress human rights!
We do not want China to be contained or isolated from the rest of the world. We believe that only by adhering to the principles of human rights and through open dialogue can the world community pressure the Chinese government to change. Ignoring these realities and tolerating barbaric atrocities in name of the Beijing Olympics will disgrace the Olympic Charter and shake the foundations of humanity. Human rights improvement requires time, but we should at least stop China's human rights situation from deteriorating. Having the Olympics hosted in a country where human dignity is trampled on, will not honor its people or the Olympic Games.
We sincerely hope that the Olympic Games will bring the values of peace, equality, freedom and justice to 1.3 billion Chinese citizens. We pray that the Olympics will be held in a free China. We must push for the 2008 Olympics to live up to the Olympic Charter and we must advocate for the realization of "one world" with "one human rights dream." We believe that only an Olympic Games true to the Olympic Charter can promote China's democratic progress, world peace and development.
We firmly hold to the belief that there can be no true Olympic Games without human rights and dignity. For China and for the Olympics, human rights must be upheld!
Teng Biao, a scholar and human rights lawyer in Beijing. Hu Jia, a human rights activist in Beijing.