The Daily Texan: An Olympic mistake



By Jillian Sheridan

I love the Olympics. I have watched them for as long as I can remember, and I have been counting down the days until next year's event in Bejing - at least until I walked into a demonstration in front of the UT Tower for the Human Rights Torch Relay.

The Human Rights Torch Relay is a movement encouraging countries to boycott the 2008 Olympics. They aim to remind the world of the values of the Olympics - freedom, peace and equality - which they say China does not uphold. The relayers handed out pamphlets stating, "The Olympics and crimes against humanity cannot co-exist in China." The group claims that the Chinese government is not only imprisoning citizens for religious activities and political opposition, but it is executing those citizens and selling their organs.

At first I was skeptical. Many organizations demonstrate on the steps of the tower, and quite a few of them are completely insane. I asked my friend who moved from China eight years ago if she thought there was any truth to these claims, and she told me they were ridiculous. She was adamant that there is nothing going on in China like the protesters were depicting. I wondered if she had just been brainwashed by the lies of the Chinese government.

But then I had a thought: Perhaps these are lies propagated by my own government to get Americans to fear China and to fear communism and thus become more loyal citizens. Unfortunately, many of us cannot travel the world and investigate issues for ourselves. We have to trust other sources of information, and it is difficult to determine the truth considering all the biases and lies that come through interest groups, governments and the media.

The claims of the Human Rights Torch Relay, however, are accepted nearly everywhere. The organization is international and is supported by citizens around the world. In fact, 10,000 Chinese citizens signed a petition calling for human rights in their country before the Olympics. David Matas, an international human rights lawyer, and David Kilgour, the former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, published a report in February entitled "Bloody Harvest," which claims that Falun Gong practitioners are being illegally executed for their religious beliefs so that the Chinese government can sell their organs. Falun Gong is a spirituality-based movement that was introduced to China in 1992, and its practitioners have been prosecuted by the government since 1999.

Some critics liken the movement to a cult, and Beijing sees it as a threat to national security. Matas and Kilgour's report cites 41,500 unexplained organ transplants from 2000 to 2005 that didn't come from executed prisoners, the brain-dead nor family donors. The U.N. has alleged the same thing against the Chinese government, but it's difficult to ensure that evidence on either side is legitimate. Human rights groups in China have limited access to research.

In its quest to host the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government vowed to improve human rights in their country. But according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, serious violations of human rights are continuing in China. In fact, some of these violations are a part of China's preparation for the Olympic games, such as imprisonment of citizens who have sent letters to the International Olympic Committee calling for improvements in China's human rights, forcible illegal evictions of thousands of Beijing residents and suppression of groups that the government fears will embarrass the nation during the games, such as Falun Gong practitioners.

In the face of condemning research and global agreement, it is hard to deny that China is violating the rights of many of its citizens. Now the question is: What does that mean for the Olympics? According to the fundamental principles in the Olympic Charter, "Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles."

Clearly, China is not living up to that principle. So should we boycott the 2008 Olympic games? Many American athletes have trained for their entire lives to compete at these games, and this is their one shot at amateur glory. However, this could be our one shot to convince China to stop torturing and attacking its own citizens. We need to intensify our demands for improved human rights for the citizens of China. We should hold the Chinese government to its promise to the world. If it continues to ignore the spirit of the Olympics, we need to take a stand by boycotting these games - even if that means I won't get to enjoy the Olympics next year.

Nov 15,2007
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