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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

San Francisco shouldn't welcome tainted Olympic torch

November 26, 2007

Last updated November 24, 2007 12:24 p.m. PT

By BRIDGET JOHNSON
LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

China is an egregious violator of human rights.

It seems by this point in history this should be common knowledge, 
and proponents of free speech, media and religion shouldn't have to 
keep justifying opposition to the regime by offering the examples 
that repeat from day to day.

China's track record is grim: Labor and re-education camps full of 
political prisoners. More executions than anywhere else in the world. 
More journalists and cyber-dissidents caught and punished by a 
massive crew of censorship police. China's propping up the brutal 
regime of Myanmar that kills democracy protesters in cold blood -- 
and blocking U.N. Security Council action by maintaining it's just 
business as usual in a sovereign state.

So why in the world would a progressive city like San Francisco 
welcome the torch of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics?

"The torch should not be permitted to be used as a propaganda vehicle 
for the communist dictatorship in China," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, 
R-Calif., who in August co-sponsored resolutions calling for the 
United States to boycott the Olympics over China's role in Darfur and 
its human-rights violations at home.

Yet the City by the Bay is the sole U.S. stop on the global torch 
relay, with the flame set to pass through on April 9. One grass-roots 
group of human-rights-minded residents isn't so willing to let that 
happen, but so far the San Francisco Team Tibet Coalition can't even 
get an audience with Mayor Gavin Newsom to ask him to cancel the 
torch relay through the city.

"Your welcoming of the Olympic torch would suggest ... that you are 
ready to turn your back on a unique opportunity to promote legitimate 
international concerns and ... take a stand for justice in Tibet and 
China," stated the Aug. 8 letter to Newsom. According to Giovanni 
Vassallo, president of coalition member the Committee of 100 for 
Tibet, the mayor's office has not responded.

Repeated attempts to obtain comment from Newsom's office were 
unsuccessful.

The "Journey of Harmony" torch relay hasn't just stirred the waters 
in the Bay Area: Beijing included Taipei on the relay route, only to 
have Taiwan -- which is not allowed to use its flag, seal or anthem 
at the Games -- declare the torch unwelcome, calling it "a brazen 
attempt to downgrade Taiwan to a part of China." China has also 
instituted strict background checks on foreign climbers on the 
Tibetan side of Mt. Everest in an effort to thwart protesters on the 
torch route.

Shannon Service, a Students for a Free Tibet member who was detained 
by Chinese authorities in April for protesting at Mount Everest, is 
part of the coalition setting its sights on San Francisco.

"The mayor doesn't seem to quite get that when the torch passes 
through our fair city it will not be hailed as a symbol of 
international unity and sports," she said. "It's going to raise 
international protest as a symbol of occupation, torture and genocide."

"San Francisco is known worldwide as a center of progressive 
consciousness," said Laurel Sutherlin, also arrested on Mount 
Everest. "We cannot allow the Chinese government to exploit the 
reputation of our city to advance their nefarious policies on the 
global stage."

At this point, we unfortunately can't go back and fix what the 
International Olympic Committee should have never done in the first 
place: awarding the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing. It takes a truly 
blind individual to not see the hollowness of the regime's empty 
promises to reform in return for the games. Conversely, we've seen 
increased press-freedom crackdowns and, according to Amnesty 
International, "re-education through labor" and "enforced drug 
rehabilitation" in order to "clean up" Beijing before the games.

What we can do, though, is take a stand and decide that this tainted 
Beijing torch does not represent the values of a nation that has 
pledged to defend the basic dignity and human rights of every 
individual.

China's torch should not be welcomed on American soil. The city of 
San Francisco should take the bold step of canceling the torch relay 
through its streets, putting humanity before revenue and justice 
before publicity.

This torch should also light a fire under Americans to reconsider 
other partnerships with China until its people and the Tibetan people 
are free.

"After the monks have been mowed down and slaughtered in the streets 
of Rangoon, (Myanmar), it has to be more difficult for people to 
accept that we have the Olympics in Beijing," Rohrabacher said.

Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Write 
her at bridget.johnson(at)dailynews.com.
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