Tag Archives: Olympics

Asia’s human rights offenders: A look at Reporter Without Borders’ annual press freedom index

I promise, I am not becoming a China-hater. Despite what these last two posts may read, I have visited the country and think the people, cities and countryside of China are amazing. However, after joining Reporters Without Borders yesterday, I took a gander through their annual Press Freedom Index from 2008. I was shocked to see some of the more developed, thriving nations rock bottom on the list.

Which brings me back, of course, to China. How can a country so fraught with humanitarian issues be constantly congratulated by the U.S. government? How could they have been chosen to host the most important, influential and unifying sporting event in the world – the Olympics? They were given this honor even though Tibetans are continually enslaved in their own country, Falun Gong practitioners are tortured and imprisoned, and Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 167th out of 173 in terms of the rights journalists have in China.

North Korea Premier Kim Yong II Visits China

Human rights offenders Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (R) and North Korean Premier Kim Yong II

“Being a journalist in Beijing or Shanghai… is a high risk exercise involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment,” reads a passage from the report. Although liberal media outlets are beginning to form, China has a long way to go if it wants to compete with its nearby neighbors such as Japan (29th), Taiwan (36th) or South Korea (47th). Even war-torn Sri Lanka beat them by two places.

Of course not all of Asia is booming with press freedom. Not surprisingly, North Korea was listed second from the bottom, where government propaganda rules and the population is largely cut-off from world happenings. Burma and Vietnam came in as the fourth and sixth worst rated countries, respectively. Eritrea, in Northeast Africa, came in at number one.

Still, China must reconcile what it wants to become and what it still inevitably is. While the country has made huge strides economically, pulling millions out of poverty, their successes have not come without a price. Human rights activists are imprisoned regularly, religious freedom is highly restricted (the constitution forbids any practice that may cause “disruption”to society) and the media struggles to produce independent journalism.

Human Rights Watch announced just today that on February 13 China placed new restrictions on Chinese news assistants to foreign correspondents, who risk being dismissed or losing their accreditation for engaging in “independent reporting.” The government also announced that it would create a blacklist for Chinese journalists who participate in “illegal reporting.”

Great nations are not only formed by swift economic growth and a reduction in poverty but by an open society where all citizens are free to express themselves and to strive for what they want to achieve. Great nations are those which respect the environment, engage in constructive dialogue with their allies and their foes, educate their children, and provide services to the poor and underprivileged.

I would never presume to list any of today’s countries as “great nations,” and certainly not my own. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give China a chance to improve themselves. After all, they haven’t been at this whole “developed country” thing for very long.

But still, certain issues just can’t wait to be dealt with. How many people will have to die before China’s human rights records improve?

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Beijing glory… but is it?

As I sit here pontificating on the world’s injustices, I must, for a minute, shove my foot not so gently into my mouth. After months of spewing vilification at the Chinese government (well, through the electric waves of the virtual world), I seem to have turned my back on my once beloved Tibetan community. Much like that Nacho Cheese Dorito which I know is so bad for me, I just keep taking more handfuls of chips and shoving them in my mouth.

It all started two years ago when, after spending much of my young adult life as a Tibetan sympathizer, I finally decided to venture off to India to work with the exiled Tibetan community. Perhaps why I found it so hard to subsequently book my ticket to a pre-Olympic Beijing. “It’s fine,” I told myself, as I wandered through the maze of walls in the Forbidden Palace. “No problem,” I said, upon holding a Chinese baby in a buttless onesie in my arms for that lucky photograph. “Just this once,” I cowered, as I shoved an Olympic Games pin into my purse at a memorabilia shop.

I felt that my duty as a world citizen and global traveler gave me permission to travel to a country I once so despised. Just two years ago, I signed a banner protesting its role as host of the Olympic Games. It wasn’t a thoughtless pursuit. I knew that by penning my name onto that strip of cotton that I was dedicating myself to two weeks in August of no NBC, no sports, no action. And I was fully prepared to do it after what I’d seen and heard from the unending hardships of the Tibetan exiles I had met living in India. But, even though I was supporting China’s tourism industry, I justified it with the fact that I was broadening my horizons and discovering the true meaning of China… and not the distorted, corrupted view in my head.

And of course, visiting Beijing was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. An entire blog wouldn’t do it justice. Although I wasn’t ready to make kissy faces at the government, I was willing to give it a chance. But just one.

When I came home, Olympic pin shoved far back into the depths of a desk drawer, I looked on at my white Tibetan prayer scarf with pride. I could have my cake and eat it too.

I was fine until I landed in France, six months ago, shortly before the protests began in Tibet against China’s involvement in the Olympic Games. From my tiny bedroom in Perigueux, I sobbed like a small child, wondering if any of the Tibetan protesters were people I knew. I watched as Tenzin Tsundue, a man I had interviewed in Minneapolis months before, got thrown in jail with his predictable red scarf tied around his forehead in protest. Horrified, I paced my bedroom in anger, trying to come up with a battle plan – against China. There had to be something I could do – and it wasn’t in reporting on the local Tibetan community, because there wasn’t one. I thought about asking my mom to send my Olympic pin back to China with a nasty letter attached – or at least to throw it in the garbage in spite.

And so, like any normal American Tibet sympathizer working in France as a journalist would do, I decided to write an angry email to the Chinese government.

“Shame on you, China. Shame on you,” I spouted in the final phrase of the message. For paragraphs, I launched into a vicious verbal attack as to why China should not be allowed to host the Olympics, an event that prides itself on global and cultural unity, and that I would not watch the Games in protest. “Although I am a big fan of the Olympics,” I wrote, “this year, I will not watch.”

I was doing fine until the gymnastics rolled around a few days ago. As a competitor for over 15 years, the desire was just too much to bear. I looked online for results a few times, assuring myself that this time would be my last. But with every tiny bit of information I received, I was even more hooked. And watching all-day CNN coverage – my only English channel – wasn’t helping. By the second week, I found myself guiltily setting my alarm for 5 a.m. so that I could watch the women’s all-around finals, an event I had paid nearly 200 dollars to watch in the flesh exactly four years ago in Athens.

So there I sat, the world’s biggest hyprocrite, peering through weary eyes as the Chinese started the rotation off on the vault. Did it count, I wondered, if my eyes were only half open? I was almost relieved, ten minutes later, when the shoddy French coverage moved from the gymnastics to two continuous hours of fencing. Then, I thought, I had been set free from my guilt.

Yet, somehow, as dawn approached casting a hazy orange glow through my bedroom window, there I was on nbc.com watching the results pop up onto the screen in real-time, so obsessed that I was willing to forsake sleep, sanity and my own morals just to get a little slice of my favourite sport.

I will justify my choice in saying that I once dreamed of being an Olympian myself. I remember sitting on the porch at our cabin up north, tracking out the “Olympic plan” with my dad. We even busted out a notebook and made a timeline. If I could accomplish A before such-and-such time, I would be well on my way to becoming the next Mary Lou Retton.

Well, we all know how that story turned out. Fortunately, I’ve still got my wit and good looks. Or at least one of the two. Because I certainly don’t have an ounce of Olympic potential and clearly, only traces of integrity or morals. But don’t worry – it’s something that I’m working on. Luckily for me, I haven’t been able to watch any of the Olympics because of the time difference. And I don’t count it when results pop up in a newscast.

Despite my personal distaste of the Chinese government and unwavering dedication to the Tibetan cause, I can safely say that my avoidance of the Olympic Games has been largely circumstantial and has nothing to do with my original intentions of protesting it – on two accounts. The verdict is out on whether or not I’ll ever forgive myself for this rather major personal whoopsey-daisy. But like I said, protesting China is a little like those Doritos. You know the crap content, but they just taste so darn good. In the end, is anything guilt-free?