Allegations of censorship under China’s communist regime are long-standing. Critics claim that since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power in 1949, it has sought to eliminate any voice that contradicts or opposes the discourse established by the movement’s leaders.
More than 70 years later, the criticisms are still in force, and new evidence is added every day to prove that the regime continues to persecute communicators, professionals, and ordinary citizens who dare to denounce different types of abuses committed by the rulers.
In January 2022, Beijing inaugurated a new version of the Winter Olympic Games. Thousands of journalists from all over the world arrived in China to broadcast the event under warnings to exercise extreme caution in their speeches and to avoid criticizing the communist regime.
Not to mention the Chinese journalists who under no circumstances are allowed to express themselves against the regime’s policies and the CCP authorities. There are no independent media based in China, and all the communicators working there belong to the state or private media that respond directly to the regime.
Meanwhile, the Chinese regime is taking advantage of the opportunity in which the eyes of the world are on it to show an idyllic image of its country, its culture, and above all, to try to sell the world on the idea that under communism, China has prospered in every imaginable aspect.
Chinese regime censors and represses dissenting voices
There is an undeniable common factor in all leftist regimes in modern history; the lack of freedom of expression. When communism takes power, it does not give space to dissent, it imposes a unique discourse that must be adhered to, and those who oppose it must keep it in reserve. Under no circumstances can they do so publicly, much less if they represent a media outlet.
With the development of the Internet in the last two decades, many journalists and ordinary citizens inside China have managed to contact human rights associations abroad, working to transmit information and publicize many of the atrocities committed by the communist regime.
Journalists worldwide have tried to enter China to investigate these issues and suffered censorship and persecution in many cases.
One only has to read the report on human rights in China published by the U.S. State Department a few months after the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing to understand the painful reality experienced by millions of citizens and the long-standing accusations.
It is also incomprehensible that 14 years later, the claims expressed therein are still valid and have even increased. Yet, despite this, Beijing was once again chosen to host the Olympic Games.
According to the report, during the year of the 2008 Summer Olympics: “The government increased its severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities in Tibetan areas and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), increased detention and harassment of dissidents and petitioners, and maintained tight controls on freedom of speech and the Internet … Abuses peaked around high-profile events, such as the Olympics and the unrest in Tibet.”
The State Department further asserts that the communist regime continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest and imprison journalists, writers, and activists along with their families and defense lawyers throughout the sporting event, which kept it exposed to the world’s gaze.
Proof that this situation has remained the same or even worsened over the years is that in 2021 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) again labeled the Chinese communist regime as the world’s largest jailer of journalists for the third consecutive year.
The report recounts in general terms the disappearance of Chinese journalists who attempted to document government mismanagement during the coronavirus pandemic and those who tried to report on the ongoing genocide of the Uighur people in East Turkestan. It also details a few one-off events, such as the imprisonment of Jimmy Lai, founder of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily media.
The vast majority of imprisonments of journalists in Mainland China face a series of questionable Orwellian charges. Such is the case of freelance journalist Zhang Zhan, arrested in May 2020 for her critical coverage of the Chinese regime’s response to the CCP virus pandemic. She is currently serving a four-year prison sentence for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” an ambiguous charge often used to target peaceful critics of the regime.
Another current evidence about the regime’s concealment of reality and lack of freedom of expression in China is the case of the floods that occurred during 2021 in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. Heavy torrential rains flooded roads and subways, trapping motorists and travelers, causing an unknown number of victims to this day.
At first, while photos and videos of dead bodies floating in the water were circulating the world, the Chinese state media were adamant that there were no fatalities. Later, with more than 1 million people evacuated, it was impossible to deny that there were several deaths, although always minimizing the situation and praising the authorities’ actions.
A critical point about freedom of expression in China is censorship by the state intelligence system about what can be seen and/or broadcast on the Internet. Western social networks are generally blocked as well as the mainstream media.
Local social networks, such as the popular Weibo or WeChat, are entirely controlled, and any comments against the regime are automatically censored.
As mentioned above, censorship is not only against the Chinese. Foreign journalists and students are also subjected to strict controls and monitoring. For example, officials acquired a surveillance system in Henan province that tracks them as “suspicious persons” using biometric data.
According to Reuters, the system integrates at least 3,000 facial recognition cameras integrated with several national and regional databases through which their movements and actions are monitored.
The strategy includes the participation of 2,000 operators, including officials and police officers, who intervene according to three categories of “dangerousness” of the detected persons.
Hong Kong: Extreme censorship
The former autonomous territory of Hong Kong is a case in which the Chinese regime violated every kind of international commitment to safeguarding the right to freedom of expression.
Since the imposition of Hong Kong’s National Security Law in June 2020, the communist regime implemented a legal system that allowed it to destroy all forms of political dissent. And in a short time, it succeeded in eradicating the primary anti-communist media.
The renowned Apple Daily was forced to close after police froze $2.3 million of its assets and raided its offices. In addition, several of its executives, including founder Jimmy Lai, were arrested and charged under the National Security Act.
Then, in December 2021, another of the few remaining pro-democracy media outlets in operation, Stand News, had to close its doors and cancel its publications. Reuters reported more than 200 police raided its offices, froze its assets, and jailed its executives for alleged “seditious publication” offenses,
Days after this closure, Citizen News, one of the few remaining independent media outlets in Hong Kong, also ceased operations, citing the closure of Stand News as the main reason.
The historic “Olympic Charter” stirs controversy over the Beijing Olympics
Evidence abounds that the communist dictatorship continues to be a system that oppresses fundamental freedoms. Even so, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) once again awarded the merit of organizing a new version of the Olympic Games to the People’s Republic of China.
Criticism was voiced from all corners of the world. But, of course, it is difficult to defend the fact that a country hosting the Olympic Games so obviously fails to comply with the basic precepts established in the Olympic Charter itself.
The Olympic Charter demands the preservation of human dignity and repudiates discrimination of any kind in the countries organizing the event. And precisely, the allegations about the repression of democracy, the absence of freedoms, and systematic human rights abuses in China fall far short of the requirements of the Olympic Charter.
“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms outlined in this Olympic Charter must be guaranteed without discrimination of any kind, whether based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, wealth, birth or other status,” states one of the primary points of the Olympic Charter.
On the other hand, the government of the candidate country organizing the event must submit to the IOC a legally binding document under which it guarantees and undertakes that the country and its public authorities will respect the Olympic Charter.
Now, can a regime accused of genocide in its persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority, a regime accused of imprisoning and even disappearing dissident voices, a regime accused of developing a multi-million dollar business from the forced removal of organs from living practitioners of prisoners of conscience, such as the practitioners of the Falun Gong discipline, really have the honor of hosting the Olympic Games twice in less than two decades?
Major powers announce diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 Olympic Games
There is no definite consensus to answer the question that closes the previous section. Still, while power groups are interested in the Chinese regime hosting world-class events such as the Olympic Games, many politicians and institutions worldwide are fervently opposed to this happening.
After receiving calls from numerous institutions and human rights groups, a bipartisan group of legislators in the U.S. Congress pushed in July 2021 for a boycott against the Beijing Olympics. Their main argument is the genocide committed by the Chinese communist regime against the Uighur ethnic group and other Turkish Muslim minority groups, as reported by Fox News.
Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey spoke out through a statement at the time, saying, “There’s no such thing as non-political games—dictatorships like China host the Olympics to validate their standing as normal and respected countries even as they continue to commit crimes against their people.”
Several U.S. lawmakers also called on the IOC to postpone and relocate the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics because of human rights abuses in China.
Finally, the Biden administration announced that it would conduct a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympics. While only implying that no U.S. officials would attend the event, the U.S. government’s gesture had a profound impact on the image of the Chinese communist regime. Moreover, it encouraged other nations to do the same.
“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic games given [China’s] ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in December, The Hill reported.
Such was the impact of this news that days after the White House announcement, Andorra, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Netherlands, Portugal, Puerto Rico, San Marino, and Switzerland also announced a diplomatic boycott against the new edition of the Olympic Games.
As if this were not enough to demonstrate a generalized repudiation, a few days before the official start of the event, the European Parliament registered 585 votes in favor, 46 against, and 41 abstentions, approving a request for a political and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, in rejection of the human rights violations perpetrated by the Chinese communist regime in Hong Kong.
The European boycott also involves calls for further sanctions against CCP officials and companies in Hong Kong and the rest of the country colluding in the abuses, according to a Jan. 20 report by German media outlet RP Online.
Participants warned not to speak out against Chinese regime
In a strong message before the Games began, world-class human rights and political bodies warned participating athletes not to expect the IOC to protect them if they try to speak out in defense of human rights or criticize the Chinese authorities.
While the IOC has said athletes will have freedom of speech during the Winter Games, they also warned to follow “applicable public law.” And if the regime’s strict legislation is taken into account, it is better not to even think about criticizing it because the consequences could be fatal.
In this regard, during a briefing organized by Human Rights Watch in mid-January, participants at the event were warned that Chinese laws are very vague in terms of the offenses that can be used to prosecute people’s freedom of expression. In addition, there are all kinds of crimes that can be charged for peaceful and critical comments, and if they go to trial, “China has a 99% conviction rate in these cases,” warned Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Activists cited the case of tennis player Peng Shuai, who disappeared for a time after accusing a regime official of abuse and then appeared to repeat a bizarre speech in which she seemed to support the communist regime even though she seemed to be under extreme pressure while speaking.
Amid concerns about data privacy and spying in China, the FBI and some Olympic teams in Europe also advised athletes not to bring personal phones and laptops to Beijing.
Separately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged U.S. athletes to keep quiet about human rights abuses by China, arguing that the country’s regime is “ruthless.”
Pelosi issued the warning during her testimony to a Congressional-Executive Committee on China. She acknowledged that the United States has a moral obligation to condemn human rights violations but insisted that the Olympics were not the appropriate venue for athletes to voice their concerns.
Pelosi’s remarks have provoked a reaction from some sectors who said that her real interest is that neither the United States nor its representatives be critical of the regime because it could affect their interests.
In response to this reaction, Pelosi clarified: “As I wish the athletes well, I do not encourage them to speak out against the Chinese government [regime] there because I fear for their safety if they do.” However, she added that to “… remove all doubt about why I said they shouldn’t speak out, it’s because I fear for their safety.”
Beijing 2022, complaints abound from journalists and athletes
Thousands of foreign athletes, coaches, diplomats, and media members arrived in Beijing amid warnings about the Chinese regime’s constant violation of human rights, the lack of guarantee of fundamental freedoms, and the censorship of voices critical of the communist apparatus.
As established by the rules imposed by the organizers of the games in China, foreigners arriving in the country must remain locked in their respective “isolation bubbles.” The “Zero COVID” strategy implemented by the Chinese regime served as a perfect argument to limit the circulation of visitors as much as possible and thus keep them enclosed in a controlled environment in which they can show a reality that is not the one lived outside the bubble.
The organizers have already accumulated several criticisms from athletes and federations despite this. Most of them take aim at the terrible conditions suffered by the participants who tested positive for Covid when they got off the plane. Although they also criticized aspects related to the poor food quality and the celebration of competitions under unacceptable weather conditions.
The bubble, known as the “closed circuit,” comprises media centers, hotels, athletes’ villages, and the event venues themselves. Everyone inside the loop must remain there for the duration of the games.
One of the concerns expressed by visitors has to do with digital security. Specifically with the official Olympic Games app, MY2022. Everyone inside the circuit must have the app on their phones, presumably to monitor their travel data and health information, including daily Covid-19 test results and vaccination status.
But research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found that the app is not transparent about where sensitive personal data is sent. The app would have an encryption flaw that includes a list of confidential keywords in a file called “illegal words.txt,” the censorship words are related to a variety of political topics, including domestic issues such as Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as references to Chinese agencies.
Inside the closed-loop bubble, Chinese authorities have dismantled the firewall that governs the rest of the country, which blocks a long list of websites, including Google, Wikipedia, Netflix, and most foreign media and news services. Thus, visitors can access these and broadcast on their networks information of what they are experiencing inside the bubble.
On the other hand, the Swedish Olympic team has complained that conditions in the mountains are dangerously cold. While a Polish skater suffered days of great fear while locked in an isolation room in Beijing and “cried until she had no more tears,” she said. And Germans have complained strongly about not being given hot food despite the cold.
More than 350 Games participants tested positive for Covid upon arrival in the Chinese capital since Jan. 23. Unfortunately, many are still in isolation, fearing that their Games are over, and many doubt that they indeed tested positive.
Such is the case of Finnish ice hockey player Marko Anttila, whose team believes he is being kept in isolation for Covid-19 for no reason.
Finland head coach Jukka Jalonen said the situation was affecting Anttila’s mental health. “We know that he is completely healthy and that’s why we think that China, for some reason, will not respect his human rights,” he added.
There is still a week before the Games end, and the criticisms are already very numerous. In a few weeks, when all the athletes and professionals who attended the event are back in their respective countries, the complaints will increase—considering that many visitors may be heeding the recommendations not to criticize the regime or the organization of the event during their stay in China.