In a different part of Beijing, the Prominent human rights activist Hu Jia is once again living in another kind of bubble: what he says is house arrest imposed by authorities who want him out of public view during the Games.
“They said that the Winter Olympics is a very important political event and that no ‘dissenting voices’ will be allowed, such as any criticism of the Winter Olympics or any talk related to human rights.”said Hu, who spoke with CNN.
“In China, people like me are called ‘internal hostile forces’… that’s why they have to isolate me from the outside world”continued Hu, who gained international prominence as a human rights defender in the early 2000s and was a friend of the late Nobel Peace Prize winner and dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Hu maintains that he has been restricted to his residence, with the exception of trips to care for his sick mother, since January 15. She is a escalation of 24-hour state surveillance that Hu says he has been under for nearly two decades. It’s also a treatment he’s grown accustomed to during sensitive political events in China.
Hu said that She was originally told to leave Beijing entirely and move to Guangdong during the Olympic period, but an outbreak of COVID-19 prevented her from going. Anyway, it’s far from the only dissident to face restrictions in the months leading up to the Winter Games.
William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator for ‘China Human Rights Defenders’, a non-profit network that supports rights defenders in Chinasaid that before the Winter Games there was a increase in state security reports wanting to know the whereabouts of people, house arrests, and arrests of high-profile activists and lawyers.
“The Olympics have given China an opportunity to show its international influence and it doesn’t want activists to interrupt that and talk about its human rights abuses,” he said, adding that many prominent rights advocates are “monitored 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, detention or enforced disappearance, is typical in the run-up to sensitive events in China, where the Communist Party keeps a tight rein on dissent.
“The point is to avoid any contact between activists and essentially the outside world, which, during these events, tends to pay more attention to what’s going on in China,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at New York-Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit organization.
But controls on dissent have tightened throughout the year, blurring the line between normal and sensitive periods, according to observers. “The human rights environment in China has deteriorated quite significantly in the last decade,” Wang said.
Concerns about China’s human rights record have already cast a shadow over the Beijing Olympics, including a US-led diplomatic boycott of what Washington calls gross human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the western Xinjiang region. China has denied these charges and dismissed international concerns about its human rights record, calling them “political posturing and manipulation” in the run up to the Games.
Following a faxed request for comment on allegations that Hu Jia has been forcibly confined to his home during the Winter Olympics and that other human rights activists have also been detained or monitored, the Ministry of Public Security in China referred to CNN to the Beijing authorities. Multiple calls to the Beijing municipal government went unanswered.
Hu, who rose to fame for his HIV/AIDS activism in rural China, says the house arrest began after he posted on Twitter – a platform banned in China – describing an increase in restrictions and controls on activists ahead of the Beijing Games. He also pointed out the circumstances of imprisoned or missing dissidents while using a Chinese Winter Olympics hashtag.
Since then, security agents have visited him several times, Hu says, including once this week to tell him not to talk about Olympic skier Eileen Gu. That was after Hu commented via Twitter on an article about the American-born athlete representing China at the Beijing Games.
Hu says he hopes that this period of house arrest lasts until the country’s annual legislative meeting next month and that this time is going to be spent reading.
“He is much better than my friends who suffer in jail and prison. We are like the difference between heaven and hell, so I have nothing to complain about.” Hu said in a recorded video diary, where he is documenting this.
“For sure there is a certain level of stress, my mental health, et cetera. After all, you always want to be able to walk out of your house freely and stand under the bright sky.” he said in another post. But Hu is no stranger to harsher forms of confinement.
Just a few months before Beijing hosted its last Olympic Games in 2008, Hu was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for “incitement to subvert state power,” a sentence that activists at the time linked to his work that drew international attention; human rights abuses in China before the Games.
This time, Hu watched the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games from his parents’ home in Beijing, the only place that says security will allow you to visit and a privilege that says they have threatened to deny you if you misbehave. He also says that if things get worse, could be jailed again. But nonetheless, Hu has a message.
“This could be the only Olympics in history that has drawn so much attention to the human rights issues of the host country. This is one very good opportunity to explore and discover China’s human rights issues, including Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese… and also citizens, human rights activists and dissidents like us who are now in mainland China”, Hu said.
“I hope the world sees this clearly and pays more attention to human rights issues. Not only during the Winter Olympics, but also continue to watch democracy, human rights and the future of China.” He said.
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