Monday, March 31, 2008

China exports oppression

The Olympic torch made it to Athens today to be officially handed over to China. There were the expected protests, and the expected arrests - which is fair enough when people charge a police cordon and try to block a road. But reading the media reports, the Greek police seem to have gone well beyond what was necessary to allow the event to proceed. According to BBC,

Police had warned they would confiscate all banners, signs or objects that might be thrown.
While the New York Times reported that
[E]ven before the hand-over began, three supporters of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were detained outside the sprawling all-marble Panathinaiko Stadium for distributing leaflets on the movement, which is outlawed in China.

“They continue to remain in police custody and we have been given no reason by the authorities for their arrest,” the Falun Gong supporters’ lawyer, Ignatios Tatoulis, said.

The latter in particular is simply outrageous. Greece is a modern democracy, a member of the European Union, and a party to various human rights instruments (including the UDHR, ICCPR and ECHR) which affirm the right to freedom of speech. And they're arresting people for quietly handing out leaflets?

It sounds as if rather than aiming to ensure the event goes ahead safely while protecting the rights of all their citizens, the Greek authorities are primarily interested in protecting China's image. And rather than ensuring China improves its human rights under the glare of global scrutiny (as originally advertised), the oppression Olympics are instead exporting Chinese oppression around the world.