As a followup to the highly publicized arrest last week of ITV Journalist John Ray by Chinese police, on Thursday it appears that at least six video and photo bloggers were arrested and are still being held by Chinese authorities in a jail in Beijing. Like Ray, these bloggers were attempting to provide coverage of pro-Tibet protests which have been taking place around Olympic events.
Apparently the Chinese made the mistaken assumption that when they granted press credentials and visas to westerners, those bloggers and journalists would cooperatively restrict themselves to reporting on the Olympics, rather than spreading over the countryside in search of stories with a bit more bite to them than the scandal of China’s suspiciously young women gymnasts. Of course, in China, once you get away from the guided tour there are a lot of things for a journalist or blogger to report on which are very unflattering to the Chinese.
These bloggers include Brian Conley who was reporting for internet culturezine Rocketboom and is the producer of Alive in Baghdad and James Powderly of Graffiti Research Lab which engages in what can only be described as political art terrorism which seems to frequently involve drawing penises on things with lasers. Powderly was apparently preparing for a laser art protest statement when the Chinese authorities arrested him. Unlike earlier detainees who were released fairly quickly and then deported, Conley, Powderly, Jeffrey Rae, Michael Liss, Jeff Goldin, and Tom Grantles are being held substantially longer. Authorities have announced that they will be held for 10 days, long enough for the Olympics to end so that they can cause no further furor in the media to take advantage of the attention focused on China because of the games.
This is great publicity for any blogger and bound to get your cause and your site some notice. It’s also a good opportunity for any journalist who wants his story to make the cut for the evening news. Whatever short term suffering these guys experience will be outweighed by the long term benefits in raising their profile. Things are not so good for the anonymous protesters they are trying to cover. They have been rounded up en masse by the Chinese government, and those who are Tibetans or Chinese citizens aren’t going to get a few days in jail and a trip home. They face quick trials and then long sentences to live under inhumane conditions in forced labor camps. What’s more, reports are coming in from some sources, including the Dalai Lama that it is possible that 140 or more protesters have been shot in various incidents leading up to the games in Beijing. What is an opportunity for a blogger or a reporter may well be a final and fatal statement for the protesters.
Sophie Richardson of the Asian branch of Human Rights Watch summed up the situation in Beijing rather well when she said in a recent statement:
“The 2008 Beijing Games have put an end – once and for all – to the notion that these Olympics are a ‘force for good.’ The reality is that the Chinese government’s hosting of the Games has been a catalyst for abuses, leading to massive forced evictions, a surge in the arrest, detention, and harassment of critics, repeated violations of media freedom, and increased political repression.”
China hoped that these Olympics would show the world that they had come of age and were ready to become a full and respected member of the world community. So far the behavior of the Chinese authorities towards protesters and journalists has shown very clearly that the pomp and ceremony of the games cannot hide the systematic state oppression which remains an inescapable reality of life in China.