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Voices Of Dissent on - The Best Documentaries... Instantly On Demand

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When China pitched for the 2008 Olympic Games, it made a promise to improve its people’s fundamental human rights. Yet with increasing numbers of political activists being tortured and incarcerated for no other crime than expressing their opinions, this promise remains unfulfilled.

With less than 100 days to go until the 2008 Olympics, preparations in Beijing are well underway. The stunning "bird’s nest" stadium has been unveiled to international acclaim and China is seizing this opportunity to showcase its economic strength to the world. “It’s China’s stunning symbol of how far the country has developed in the past 30 years… This is the new China, a China to be proud of.”

Not everyone in China shares this sense of pride, but anyone attempting to disagree is immediately targeted by the government. Activists and writers who speak out and criticise the state are accused of subverting it. They are being jailed, kept under house arrest, harassed, abducted and beaten. Their daily movements, contacts, their phone calls and emails are watched.

Activist Hu Jia's open letter, "The Real China and the Olympics", denounced China's human rights record and was blocked on Chinese websites. Hu wrote that China held the world record for detaining writers and journalists even after its Games bid succeeded. For this he faces a prison sentence; his lawyers protest his innocence. “Hu Jia is innocent, he expresses opinions peacefully and we are hoping he will be freed.”

However, acquittal looks unlikely, as his lawyer explains. “We’ve never heard of a single person being acquitted of the charge of subverting state power - not in my 10 years of legal practice.” He’s right, Hu Jia is sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

In Beijing there are only a handful of lawyers willing to take on human rights cases, for fear of the brutal consequences. “They made me take off my clothes... they beat me with electric prods. It was terrible. They told me to sell my house, sell my car, to close down the law firm and get out of Beijing.” Often the tactics used by the government are “completely illegal”, but this makes no difference.

And it’s not just the activists themselves that are targeted; their families must also suffer the consequences. “Hu Jia’s wife has not committed any crime, but that doesn’t mean she’s free.” She’s watched around-the-clock. When reporter Liz Jackson goes to her home to interview her – legally and openly – she is turned away by police guards and given a “sham explanation.”

There is no sympathy for those who commit the crime of subversion. “What he did was worse than murder, he tarnished the national reputation.” A Chinese government insider is adament China is doing it the right way. “If you fabricate a story, or focus on one point and overlook the main point… or exaggerate, then this will have negative social impacts and you should be punished.”

The magnitude of the problem in Beijing is miniscule compared to that of Tibet, where international press has been banned completely. Information on what’s happening there can only be gathered through hearsay, and what little is known is incredibly worrying. “The most common state for Tibetans is a state of fear - daily life is full of fear.”

When China elected to host the Olympics it must have realised its repressive policies would come under scrutiny as never before. It seems it had resolved long before that this attention would not impact on its human rights policies in any way.


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