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Column: China Proving Why It Didn't Deserve Olympics

This story was written by Jeff Hall, Daily Nebraskan

This week's Olympics were to be a proud moment for China - a sort of coming out ceremony to mark its entrance to the world stage as a prosperous, developed nation. It was to showcase China's openness, expanding freedoms and amaze visitors with the pace of economic development.

And if you bought into the image coming from official Chinese sources, this is the nation you would see - proud and dynamic on the world stage. But peel back the thin veneer of state-sponsored media, and a darker picture appears.

China promised to lift internet restrictions to reporters covering the games, and make the nation more open for journalists. They promised "complete freedom" to report.

Instead, China has reneged on those promises, reminding all who attend the games how tightly controlled the media is in this still-authoritarian state.

On Tuesday, July 28th, reporters discovered that internet access has to be censored in the main press center. Accessing articles on Tibet is now impossible. Live broadcasts from Tiananmen Square, the site of the iconic 1989 protests, are heavily regulated. Unscheduled live feeds are nearly forbidden; several news organizations report harassment from police and bureaucracy when attempting to set up offices.

Then, on August 4th, came the most egregious of violations by the Chinese government.

When two Japanese journalists attempted to cover an attack on a police station that killed 16 officers in the western Xinjiang province, they were kidnapped by Chinese paramilitary police and taken to a hotel. They were beaten, while some of their photography equipment was destroyed.

Somehow, unlawful detention and assault just doesn't mesh with the idea of "complete freedom" for journalists.

Who could have expected anything more from the Chinese authorities? It is still the same government that jails home-grown protestors and shuts down dissenting newspapers. It is still the same government that harasses and detains thousands of Christians who do not belong to the state-sanctioned houses of worship.

It's not as if the international community had no warning about the crackdown that came. During the year in the lead-up to the games, thousands of dissidents and reformers were arrested. Residents of the country's rural western regions, who come to Beijing to petition the government, are now rounded up and deported back to their home provinces.

Many of those arrested found their way into Orwellian "Re-Education" camps.

Torture is still widespread throughout the Chinese criminal justice system. Beatings, electric shocks and food deprivation are all still used to extract confessions.

Tibetans still face strict limits on religion and expression - the harsh crackdown on protests earlier this year shows just how far the Chinese government will go to keep Tibet firmly under their control.

Minority Uighurs in the previously mentioned Xinjiang province are harshly repressed; access to religious facilities as well as education remains limited.

As for the dramatic display of economic development that China had hoped for - well, it's looking far uglier than they would have hoped. Instead of showing gleaming factories and new infrastructure improvements, the Beijing Olympics are likely to give viewers and visitors a different look: pollution.

Thick, greasy smog cut visibility down to just half a mile in the capitol last week. While the Chinese have taken millions of cars off the road and closed down hundreds of factories in and around the city, the city's air quality remains one of the worst on the face of the Earth. Even construction, the hallmark of China's economic growth, has lrgely been shut down for the duration of the games.

But despite this, the smog is still there. One Olympic official even warned that some outdoor sports may have to be delayed if the pollution levels do not subside.

Some athletes are planning on using masks to filter out pollution during their events, while others have opted out of the games entirely, citing health concerns.

The International Olympic Committee, responsible for choosing Beijing to host the 2008 games, ought to be ashamed. They went recklessly ahead with their decision, knowing full well both the political, social and environmental problems that continue to plague China.

But perhaps it is China itself that should be the most ashamed. Instead of coming out, the Chinese government has indicated that it will continue to do what it has always done - look inward, disregarding all criticism of the way the government conducts its affairs.

Do not be fooled by the propaganda. China did not deserve the Olympics, and now they are showing us why.

Jeff Hall is a senior secondary education major. Reach him at jeffhall@dailynebraskan.com