China, IOC Flailing In Response To Protest

Updated below

I and other staffers at Students for a Free Tibet have spent the last couple of days working extensively to support the activists who staged an historic protest on Mount Everest against China's occupation of Tibet and the Beijing Olympic Games and help tell their story to the international press. But as we work to spread the news about this high-altitude action, I would be remiss to not draw attention on the words and statements made by key figures at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Chinese officials in response to this protest.

The crux of the IOC's continued silence on China's occupation of Tibet is that they do not believe that they are a body that engages in politics. The IOC uses this position to abdicate its ability to affect positive change:

"We are not in a position that we can give instructions to governments as to how they ought to behave," Hein Verbruggen, chief of the IOC's coordination commission for the Beijing Games, said Wednesday.

Verbruggen was asked about calls for a boycott to pressure China to do more to stop the violence in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

"We don't want to be, as the IOC, involved in any political issues," he said. "It's not our task. We are here for organizing the Games."

The IOC has requirements and expectations that host nations must meet. It has given China a set of environmental, press, and human rights standards that the PRC must abide by in order to keep the IOC happy, at least in theory. And yet Verbruggen claims they are "not in a position [to] give instructions to governments as to how they ought to behave"? The IOC is denying its own agency as one of the most influential organizations in the world. The IOC is choosing to not be involved in the controversies of its host nation because its leadership lacks the human decency to use power to help those in need. Instead, Rogge, Verbruggen and the rest of the Committee use their influence to protect a corrupt, tyrannical government.

Paul Kelso of The Guardian analyzes Rogge's shocking failure to address legitimate concerns about China's record on Tibet and human rights.

Rogge's curious reluctance to address issues that will be raised repeatedly in the build-up to the Games followed questions about whether China's political stance would overshadow next summer's Games. Twice Rogge referred the matter to Verbruggen, a move that was all the stranger as the president spoke about traffic issues, strictly a matter for his colleague.

The only shred of a evidence that Jacques Rogge's International Olympic Committee is not a body that engages in politics is its shoddy efforts to defend its decision to rubber-stamp the Beijing Olympic torch route through Tibet and Taiwan -- defenses that are so transparently false as to be laughable. Any organization that had inclination towards playing politics on the global scene would have surely recognized the indefensible position that carrying water for the Chinese government would place them in and listen to the voices of reason that have cried out in opposition to their actions. The only credit that I grant Verbruggen's words, uttered as Rogge's proxy, is that their flailing inadequacy speaks to the extent which his is neither a moral nor a political mind.

Speaking in response to a question about the Everest protest, Verbruggen gets one thing right. "We are certainly going to have more of this (protests). We know that." Well, Hein, when you refuse to use your power to demand change from the world's worst human rights offender it's not surprising that the global community will speak out against you and your Games.

How can the IOC possibly jibe their expectation of protests in 2008 with their belief that they and their Games are non-political? Or, more importantly, how can Rogge and Verbruggen expect the global community listening to these words to believe that these two statements are anything but contradictory. The presence of protests is one of the surest signs of politics. One does not protest events or people who have no political significance. And yet communities of people who care about political freedom for Tibetans, speech rights for Chinese, religious freedom for Christians and the Falun Gong, and an end to the genocide in Darfur all agree that granting China the privilege of hosting the Olympic Games is a political decision so offensive that it demands they rise up in protest.

Rogge and Verbruggen are part of an IOC leadership team that has been described as "either too cynical, or too incompetent, or both, to protect the Olympic ideals." Rogge's refusal to lead the IOC away from the precipice that the Beijing Olympics represents for the dignity of these Games is a testament to these words.

But how can I talk about the inability of the International Olympic Committee to form a substantive response to the criticisms levied by free Tibet activists this week without mentioning the self-important, intellectually incoherent statements issued by the Chinese government like this one?

Officials said it has been a serious incident, as foreigners have seriously violated the Chinese laws and were engaged in an activity not in line with their status when entering China.

"Any foreign citizen coming to China has the obligation to abide by Chinese laws," Liu said. "They shall not engage in activities concerning the sovereignty and unity of China."

Apparently the Everest protesters erred by obtaining tourist visas and not protester visas. Leaving potential clerical errors aside, China's statements have a real through-the-looking glass feeling. China wants us to believe that a political speech act is a crime, but the physical and cultural genocide of Tibet and its people is worthy of the Olympic Games.

While I wait for China to figure out what, if anything, it is capable of saying in defense of its repressive occupation in Tibet, I join in SFTers and Tibet supports worldwide in calling for China to immediately release the four activists who protested for Tibetan freedom on Mount Everest. Tenzin Dorjee, Kirsten Westby, Laurel Mac Sutherlin, and Shannon Service may have acted as impolite guests inside Tibet, a nation occupied by China. But clearly this was a time when these four people knew that the greatest discourtesy they could commit would be to not speak out for Tibetan independence, for accountability at the IOC, and for the realization of human dignity throughout the world.

Update The American activists have been expelled from China and are now safely in Kathmandu, Nepal. Here's the first statement from one of the activists: "I am so happy to have seen my country for the first time," said SFT's deputy director Tenzin Dorjee, the first known Tibetan exile to have returned to Tibet in order to protest for independence. "I am more confident than ever before that Tibet will be free."

Cross posted at Tibet Will Be Free.

Matt is the Operations Director of Students for a Free Tibet. He regularly blogs at Emboldened, The Right's Field, and My Left Nutmeg.