As Olympics heat up, China cracks down on dissent

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But in another part of Beijing, prominent human rights activist Hu Jia is once again living in a different kind of bubble: what he says is house arrest imposed by the authorities who want him not to not be seen by the public during the Games.

“They said the Winter Olympics is a very important political event and that no ‘dissenting voices’ will be allowed – like any criticism of the Winter Olympics or any discussion related to human rights,” said Hu, who spoke to CNN during what he describes. like a week-long restriction at his home.

“In China, people like me are referred to as ‘hostile internal forces’…that’s why they have to cut me off from the outside world,” said Hu, who has gained international notoriety as an advocate for human rights. man in the early 2000s and was a friend of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Hu says he has been confined to his residence, except for trips to care for his sick mother, since Jan. 15. It’s an escalation of 24-hour state surveillance. It is also a treatment he has grown accustomed to during sensitive political events in China. Hu said he was initially told to leave Beijing altogether and move to Guangdong during the Olympics, but a Covid-19 outbreak prevented him from leaving.

But Hu is far from the only dissident facing restrictions in the months leading up to the Winter Games.

William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a non-profit network supporting rights defenders in China, said that ahead of the Winter Games there had been an increase in reports according to which state security wanted to know where people were, house arrests and detention. high-level activists and lawyers.

“The Olympics gave China an opportunity to show off its international influence and it doesn’t want pesky activists disrupting that and talking about its human rights abuses,” he said, adding that many prominent human rights defenders are “watched by state security all the time”. or subject to other control measures.

Rights experts say the crackdown on activists and speech – which can range from shutting down social media accounts to house arrest, detentions or enforced disappearances – is typical on the eve of sensitive events in China, where the Communist Party keeps tabs on dissent.

“The goal is to prevent any contact between activists and, essentially, the outside world, which during these events tends to pay more attention to what is happening in China,” said researcher Maya Wang. principal on China at the New York-based nonprofit Human Rights Watch.

But controls on dissent tightened throughout the year, blurring the line between normal and sensitive times, observers said.

“China’s human rights environment has deteriorated quite significantly over the past decade,” Wang said.

Guards secure barriers after a bus arrived at a hotel that is part of the Olympics closed-loop bubble.

A shadow over the Games

Concerns about China’s human rights record have already cast a shadow over the Beijing Olympics, including a US-led diplomatic boycott over what Washington calls serious human rights abuses. rights against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far western region of the country. from Xinjiang.

China has denied the accusations and brushed off international concerns about its human rights record, calling them “political posturing and manipulation” ahead of the Games.

Following a faxed request for comment on allegations that Hu Jia was forcibly confined to his home during the Winter Olympics and that other human rights activists were also detained or monitored, China’s Ministry of Public Security referred CNN to authorities in Beijing. Several appeals to the Beijing municipal government went unanswered.

Hu, who rose to prominence for his HIV/AIDS activism in rural China, said the house arrest began after he posted on Twitter – a banned platform in China – describing a increasing restrictions and controls on activists in the lead up to the Beijing Games. He also noted the circumstances of dissidents jailed or missing while using a Winter Olympics hashtag in Chinese.

Since then, security guards have visited him several times, Hu said, including once this week to ask him not to talk about Olympic skier Eileen Gu. This was after Hu commented via Twitter on a post about the US-born athlete representing China at the Beijing Games.

Hu says he expects this period of house arrest could last until the country’s annual legislative meeting next month. He says he will spend his time reading.

“It’s so much better than my friends who are suffering in prison and prison. We’re like (the difference between) heaven and hell, so I have no complaints,” Hu said in a recorded dairy video. , where he documents this. period of house arrest for CNN.

“There is of course a certain level of stress, my mental health, etc. After all, you still want to be able to walk out of your house freely and stand under the bright skies,” he said in another entry.

But Hu is no stranger to harsher forms of confinement.

Just months before Beijing hosted its last Olympics in 2008, Hu was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for “inciting the overthrow of state power” – a sentence that activists era have linked to his work drawing international attention to human rights abuses in China ahead of the Games.

This time, Hu watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics from his elderly parents’ home in Beijing – the only place he says security guards will allow him to visit and a privilege he says they threatened to deny whether he was acting. He also says that if things get worse, he could be imprisoned again. But nonetheless, Hu has a message.

“It is perhaps the only Olympics in history that has drawn so much attention to the human rights issues of its host country. This is a very good opportunity to explore and learn about human rights issues in China, including Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hongkongers, Taiwanese…and also citizens, human rights activists the man and dissidents like us who are in mainland China now,” Hu said.

“I hope the world will see this clearly and pay more attention to human rights issues…not just during the Winter Olympics…but also continue to monitor democracy, human rights man and the future of China,” he said.

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