10 days in jail for holding up a flag

August 22nd, 2008 § 5

On Wednesday night, a lone Tibetan, with two supporters at his side, flew the Tibetan flag near the Bird’s Nest stadium as the men’s 200 metre dash finals were ending. Norbu, a Tibetan from Germany, raised the flag while two American men, John and Jeremy, raised their fists in the air and bowed their heads in an act of defiance modeled after John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s protest at the Olympics in 1968 in Mexico City after the same event. Nearby, Briton Mandie McKeown observed and tried to document the simple action with her camera.

It was all over in a matter of seconds. Norbu, John and Jeremy were tackled to the ground by plain clothes police. The police descended on Mandie almost immediately, taking her camera and her phone. This is one of only two photos we have to document this powerful action: the Associated Press photographers on the scene were detained and roughed up and their memory cards were confiscated.

We just received news that these four individuals are likely to be sentenced to ten days in Chinese detention. Like the artist James Powderly, and the five citizen journalists, bloggers and activists detained on August 19th, Norbu, John, Jeremy and Mandie have been sentenced to jail for nothing more than peaceful expression and documentation of political views that differ from those of the Chinese leadership.

But the treatment of our friends and supporters is far from the worst of it. Yesterday, two elderly Chinese women in their late seventies, Wang Xiuying and Wu Dianyuan, were told they could spend one year in a labour camp for daring to apply for permits to protest in the Olympic ‘protest zones’ about their eviction from their homes.

This might seem shocking to some but this is the true face of the Chinese government. This is the China that I know best. All this talk of ‘protest zones’ and ‘permits’ to express dissent was at best a big PR scam facilitated by the International Olympic Committee and Hill & Knowlton. Just a shiny polish painted on the same old authorities to make them appear more friendly and welcoming to the world. But now, the polish is wearing off and the true colours of the Chinese authorities are shining through. It was all for the Olympics and it was a lie.

Thankfully, in moments of deceit and oppression like this there are individuals and people of conscience who refuse to be silent and are willing to push for change. The action of Norbu, John, Jeremy and Mandie on Wednesday night is one example. And then there are exceptional characters of Mrs Wang and Mrs Wu. Apparently they have staged many protests over the past few years and have been arrested five times. But they have refused to back down. Even after being threatened with one year in a labour camp one of them was on CNN today saying, “you cant be afraid, if you are they come to bully you.”

If only more people in this world had their courage.

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