At least 300 Chinese activists were detained or harassed throughout this month’s Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing—the latest evidence of the communist government’s widening crackdown on dissent, human rights groups say.
The campaign of police intimidation at the games in China’s eastern coastal province of Jiangsu has received virtually no Western media coverage. Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) reports that dozens of activists and online commentators were detained in "black jails," placed under house arrest, or denied travel to the host city of Nanjing.
At Nanjing, CHRD said "at least 60 petitioners, victims of forced eviction, in the village of Xiying, Nanjing, have been under house arrest since August 15, barred from going into the city to watch the games."
Security officers interrogated one Nanjing activist, Xu Juan, at the beginning of the month. They placed a surveillance device on her phone and forced her to stay outside the city.
Another activist, Meng Haixia, "has been under house arrest since August 17, and police beat her on the 22nd after she called an ambulance to take her ailing 83-year-old mother-in-law to the hospital," CHRD said.
Citizens from other locations were also harassed for visiting Nanjing. Activist Sun Liyong "was abducted by police from his home province Shandong on August 20, detained in a black jail and forced to take a psychiatric examination before being released."
Chinese authorities have revived the punishment of forced psychiatric treatment for political dissidents, a former Soviet-era practice that was widely condemned by the international community.
Police intimidated other activists who hinted that they would attend the games in Nanjing. Li Dongmei, a villager from Beijing, said in an online message that she planned to visit the event in Nanjing on Aug. 5.
"The next day, she was visited by Nanjing National Security police and Beijing Public Security police, detained and interrogated for hours, before her release into police monitoring—followed by frequent visits and phone calls until she was forced to abandon her travel plans," CHRD said.
Several activists outside of Nanjing were placed under house arrest or constant surveillance, and warned not to visit the city.
The lack of Western attention toward the Chinese crackdown reflects that "the world is preoccupied with crises elsewhere," said CHRD International Director Renee Xia in an email.
"It's important for those in positions of power to speak up about the advancing assault on liberties by the increasingly defiant Chinese leaders, who have failed to honor their own constitutional and international commitments to ‘promote and protect human rights,’" she said. "Taken in isolation, these abuses around the Nanjing Youth Olympics games may not seem to be high on a scale of seriousness of human rights violations in today's China, but they are part of the ongoing and escalating suppressions against activists, which have indicated the Xi Jinping leadership's determined reversal of any policy for political and rule of law reforms."
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the detentions during the games "appear to be part of a systematic pattern of arrests and detentions of public interest lawyers, Internet activists, journalists, religious leaders, ethnic minority leaders, labor activists, and others who challenge official Chinese policies and actions."
"We continue to call on Chinese authorities to release all persons detained for peacefully expressing their views, remove restrictions on their freedom of movement, and guarantee them the protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China's international human rights commitments, including the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said on Thursday that the games were "perfectly flawless" and a "resounding success thanks to our wonderful Chinese hosts."