China’s Strange Idea of the Olympic Spirit

Times Editorial

There’s no pleasure in beating up on China, a country of much promise whose political, economic and military capabilities will shape the world for years to come.

But we can’t let last week’s verdict in the case of Hu Jia – one of China’s most prominent human rights activists – go without the strongest condemnation.

Mr. Hu was sentenced to three and a half years in prison after a Chinese court determined that his writings criticizing Communist Party rule amounted to inciting subversion – a specious charge.

At a moment when China is under a self-inflicted international spotlight as host of the 2008 Olympics, its leaders are piling up wrong-headed decisions.

Mr. Hu’s treatment is one of those. He was dragged from his home in February by state police agents and formally charged. He and his wife, Zeng Jinyan, also an activist, had spent much of 2006 restricted to their apartment. She used the power of the Internet to blog about life under detention while he wrote online about peasant protests and human rights cases.

Mr. Hu’s testimony, by telephone earlier this year, to the European Parliament about Olympics-related rights violations was the proximate cause of his arrest. But Mr. Hu has long worked within China’s legal system to protect the rights of his fellow citizens.

He has maintained regular contacts with dissidents and other advocates on issues that include environmental protection and legal reform. He has also served as a one-man clearinghouse for information about peasant protests and dissidents, subjects that are often censored in the Chinese media.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised Mr. Hu’s case on a recent trip to China but her entreaties apparently fell on deaf ears. Chinese leaders seem increasingly determined to stamp out any hint of protest, whether peaceful – as in Mr. Hu’s case – or not – as in the case of Tibet, where anti-government demonstrations turned violent last month and resulted in the strongest crackdown on Tibetans in decades.

The Chinese are trying to push domestic critics out of the way before the games begin, no doubt so they will look better to the global community. But all they are doing is creating a dark cloud that will hover over this year’s games.

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