Remko Tanis • 06 August 2019

We will use the Olympic Games to further develop human rights and democracy in our society.

- Liu Jingmin, deputy mayor of Beijing, China in 2001

So. How did that work out?

Just ask Cheng Yuan, who for years has been openly advocating the rights of people with hepatitis B and HIV in China through NGO Changsha Funeng.

Two weeks ago, on the morning of 22 July 2019, the police barged into Cheng’s home in the southern city of Shenzhen while Cheng, his wife and their toddler aged daughter were preparing to go to work and school.

Shennan Avenue in 2019 in Shenzhen, China. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

Cheng was taken away in handcuffs. After they took her husband away, his wife was forced to bring their daughter to school, accompanied by police. One of the female State Security officers, ‘looked beautiful and carried an LV (Louis Vuitton) bag’, Cheng’s wife later recounts in an email.

Back home from bringing their daughter to school, police put a black hood over Cheng’s wife’s head and took her away for questioning, which lasted through the night.

Before she was sent back home early the next morning, police told her she was being accused of inciting to overthrow the Chinese government.

Cheng and two of his colleagues at Changsha Funeng, Liu Yangze and Xiao Wu, had been put in detention meanwhile and are accused of the same thing: inciting subversion of state power.

Cheng’s wife is currently under residential surveillance. Her phone, laptop, passport, ID cards, bank card and driver’s license have been confiscated.

The three men are being held in a detention center in Hunan province in central southern China and haven’t been heard from since their arrest.

The notice of criminal detention for Xiao Wu, issued by the Changsha State Security Bureau.

The notice of criminal detention for Xiao Wu, issued by the Changsha State Security Bureau.

Chinese law prohibits discrimination against people with hepatitis B, who previously were banned from working in sectors like education, the food industry and grocery stores.

Civil organizations such as Changsha Funeng have been trying to get these laws enforced. If anything, that sounds more like trying to enforce state power, instead of looking to subvert it.

‘Inciting subversion of state power’ is a catch-all which authorities have used against numerous activists and human rights lawyers. Many of them also pleaded merely for the rights of citizens guaranteed in the current constitution and laws of China to be enforced.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in detention in July 2017, was convicted of the same crime on Christmas Day 2009.

The congress of the Communist Party of China in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

As absolute leader of China, Xi Jinping has cracked down on many forms of activism since taking office in 2013.

He is the man responsible for putting Uyghurs in concentration camps to ‘re-educate’ them on how to better love China and its ruling Communist Party.

He is leading the Belt and Road Initiative, worth hundreds of billions of dollars of investments in countries all over the world.

Xi commands the world’s largest military force (in people, second largest in budget behind the USA) and an economy en route to be the world’s largest.

He has made himself China’s paramount leader for life against all existing conventions and is, as far as is publicly known, unchallenged in that position.

And yet the system of power he leads apparently feels threatened by three men who, from an undoubtedly underwhelming office room far from the halls of power in Beijing, advocate the rights existing law grants people with hepatitis B and HIV.

A police man taking photos from a patrol car on Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

If anything, the arrest and heavy accusations against Cheng, Liu and Wu is a warning to anyone else to simply not take up any cause at all. Advocating anything is apparently enough to have the regime lash out and make people disappear.

Xi Jinping will open the Beijing Olympic Winter Games on 4 February 2022. By then, the three Changsha Funeng men will very likely still be in jail.

A guard in front of the logo for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

A guard in front of the logo for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

Earlier this year, the chief of the International Ski Federation Gian Franco Kasper made clear why the Games will be in Beijing in 2022. He told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger:

Everything is easier in dictatorships.

Dictators can organize events such as this without asking the people’s permission.

From a business standpoint I say, from now on I only want to go to dictatorships instead of having to battle with climate activists.

Gian Franco Kasper is also an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

At least he’s honest about it. Good to keep his words in mind when, in the run up to Beijing 2022 we will again hear statements from the IOC and others -including European governments- on how events like the Olympics promote human rights and bring countries and societies closer together.

They don’t. Just ask Cheng Yuan, Liu Yangze or Xiao Wu.


p.s.: Back in 2009, I spoke with several NGOs in China on their role in society and their relationship with the authorities. That story here.

p.p.s: Last week, China File published this essay by Holly Snape. It describes a new approach the government is taking towards ngo’s or, as the Communist Party calls them, ‘social organizations. Snape describes how in a speech earlier this month, Zhan Chengfu, vice-minister of Civil Affairs,

Zhan stressed that when there are weaknesses or shortcomings in the system of regulations, NGOs should not use these to “overstep” or “not reach the mark.”