Democratic and Republican lawmakers condemned the choice of Beijing yesterday as host of the 2008 Summer Games, and human rights groups threatened to disrupt the Olympics with public demonstrations against China’s repression of dissent.
Protests erupted in Moscow even before Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), announced the decision granting the Games to Beijing.
Russian police quickly broke up a protest, arresting more than a dozen demonstrators near the site where the IOC vote was held.
The White House remained noncommittal on the decision, and IOC officials, before the vote, had voiced hope that the Olympic prize would encourage Beijing to liberalize its political system.
But defenders of human rights around the globe deplored the decision to grant China the world’s premier sporting event.
“This may be a cause for celebration in Beijing, but it must be crushing news for thousands of prisoners in China,” said former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, president of American Values, a pro-family human rights group.
Mr. Bauer said his group would begin a nationwide campaign to train Olympic visitors as human rights activists.
“The Chinese government may arrest and even kill its citizens, but it can’t stop Western protesters,” he said in an interview.
Other human rights advocates said Beijing’s track record in hosting other major international events shows that abuses are likely to increase, with China strong-arming people to ensure that Olympics facilities are constructed on time and forcibly removing the homeless and destitute from public view.
“The selection of the Olympic site is a great honor to the Chinese people, but the government must not dishonor this opportunity by violating the rights of those citizens,” Xiao Qing, executive director of Human Rights in China, told the Associated Press.
In London, the human rights group Amnesty International said China now faces the serious challenge of proving itself worthy of staging the games.
“Ironically, sports stadiums were the last places where many of those condemned to death were taken, to be subjected to ritual public humiliation in front of large crowds, just before being executed,” the organization said in a statement.
The Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government in exile said from its base in India that the decision would only encourage repression in China.
And while China celebrated its selection, a leading Tibetan-rights group charged that Chinese police had detained hundreds of Tibetans last week in advance of the Dalai Lama’s July 6 birthday.
In Washington, the Bush administration said it remained concerned about the human rights situation in China but neither welcomed nor denounced the IOC decision.
“We understand that this was a decision for the IOC to take,” said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “What we do know is that American athletes are going to go there, and they’re going to compete, and hopefully compete very well and bring home lots of gold medals.”
The State Department said the Olympics were not a political event and that the United States had no intention of turning them into one.
“But we do think it’s an opportunity for China to showcase itself as a modern and progressive country,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
On Capitol Hill, condemnation of the IOC decision came from both sides of the aisle.
Rep. Tom Lantos who introduced a bill in Congress opposing China’s bid, denounced the selection of Beijing.
“This decision will allow the Chinese police state to bask in the reflected glory of the Olympic Games despite having one of the most abominable human rights records in the world,” said Mr. Lantos, California Democrat.
“China lacks political, religious and press freedoms, and it is an absolute outrage that the IOC has decided to reward China’s deteriorating human rights record by giving Beijing the honor of hosting the Olympics.”
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, called the IOC decision “a mistake, because there is no evidence that the Chinese government has made any effort to become a part of the free democratic nations of the world.”
“The Communist government continues to ruthlessly oppress its people, persecute religion and restrict the press,” he said.
“The Chinese government also still refuses to renounce the use of force against Taiwan.”
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, accused the IOC of overlooking Chinese human rights abuses and religious persecution.
But Mr. Wolf also sounded a positive — if somewhat fatalistic — note.
“The decision has been made, and while history has proven otherwise, I am hopeful that China’s hosting of the Olympics will bring increased freedom and openness to China, rather than serve as a platform to glorify the current repressive regime,” he said.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, congratulated China.
“The bright light of the world community now shines on China to demonstrate a new, unwavering commitment to human rights and the dignity of man, the very ethos represented by the Olympic movement itself,” he said.