The Olympics Masked China’s Disdain for Human Rights

By:  Michael M. Shapiro

The Beijing Olympics will be remembered for the stellar performances of Olympic athletes, from Michael Phelps to Usain Bolt.  It will also be memorialized for its top-flight athletic facilities and venues.  What may not be remembered, however, is the Chinese government’s disdain for basic human rights.  While there was wall to wall coverage of the games, there was only a small fraction of that coverage reserved for discussion of the Chinese government’s policies.  Particularly noteworthy, China’s “re-education” program has barely registered in recent news. 

The Chinese government is currently detaining upwards of 290,000 people in centers to “re-educate” them for a period ranging anywhere from one to three years, if not longer.  These detainees are mostly political and religious dissenters, though some are petty criminals.  In “re-education” centers, the incarcerated are forced to labor and confess to the charges levied against them.  Punishment is provided without trial and there is no appeals process.

While punishment of this nature may be appropriate for petty criminals, after trial, it is not appropriate for people whose sole “crime” is to disagree with the government or to practice religion of their own choice.  In fact, several of the 290,000 in the “re-education” centers are those who sought to protest the Beijing Olympics and attempted to follow the appropriate procedures in place in China to register a protest.  Despite their efforts to follow the rules, they were still forcibly restrained and placed in a “re-education” center.  

Although President Bush and other world leaders did take the opportunity to criticize the Chinese government’s policies while attending the Olympics, more attention should have been paid to the government’s policies, particularly by news organizations, which were present in Beijing and had the opportunity to cover such issues first-hand if they made the effort to do so.  The Olympics showcased China at its best, purposefully so, and the press played its part well in this regard, but it was their responsibility to reveal China’s human rights flaws, as well, and this they largely failed to do.  

Michael M. Shapiro, founder of, is an attorney who resides in New Providence.  He currently serves as the editor of The Alternative Press,  Contact Mike at

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