Thursday, August 7, 2008

How to lose your visa - speak your mind (the Joey Cheek story)

I heard the story from Sharon Cobb:

The Chinese government on Tuesday revoked the visa of 2006 Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek, effectively barring the speedskating champion and social activist from attending the 2008 Beijing Games.

Cheek is co-founder of Team Darfur, an organization composed of athletes attempting to draw attention to human rights violations in Darfur.

And it turns out that Joey Cheek has some powerful friends. How powerful they actually are is another question.

Senator Feingold (Wisconsin):

China’s decision to revoke Joey Cheek’s visa undermines the spirit of the Olympic Games and China’s role as host. As a world leader deeply engaged in Africa, and as host of the Olympic Games, China has a responsibility and an opportunity to help bring peace to Darfur. I call on the Chinese government to use the Olympic Games to push for an end to the conflicts in Sudan and I call on President Bush to raise this issue specifically with the Chinese government during his visit.

Senator Durbin (Illinois):

The Chinese government has not provided any justification for revoking Mr. Cheek’s visa and I am concerned that this decision was a result of Mr. Cheek’s efforts to end the conflict in Darfur,” Durbin wrote. “Prohibiting Mr. Cheek from attending the 2008 Olympic Games and supporting fellow athletes undermines the Olympic principles of fair play and respect for all athletes that China has pledged to uphold. I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to revoke Mr. Cheek’s visa and allow him to attend the 2008 Olympic Games.

Speaker Pelosi (California):

In the coming days, President Bush will arrive in Beijing. I call on President Bush to secure the entry of Joey Cheek and other U.S. citizens who have been barred from attending the Olympics because of their beliefs, advocacy for the people of Darfur and human rights in China and Tibet. It is essential that President Bush show leadership in promoting democracy, freedom, and human rights during his visit to China.

The Olympic Charter states that ‘Any form of discrimination with regard to a country of a person on the grounds of race, religion, politics, gender, or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’ The International Olympic Committee is tolerating clear violations of both the Olympic ideals and the commitments the Chinese government made in order to host the Olympic Games.

Press Secretary Perino:

We were disturbed to learn that the Chinese had refused his visa. We are taking the matter very seriously. We have sent in our embassy in Beijing to démarche the Chinese. That is where we go in and we say we are concerned about this, and we want you to reconsider your actions. So we would hope that they would change their mind. And I'll hopefully have more for you later, but we had to also wait for Washington to wake up to take any further action.

Presidential candidate John McCain:

I am very disappointed by Beijing’s decision to revoke the visa of 2006 Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek, a move that will effectively bar him from attending this year’s games. Mr. Cheek is the co-founder of Team Darfur, an organization that draws attention to the plight of children in the Darfur region of Sudan, and he was the U.S. flag bearer at the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Turin Olympics. Today’s news, together with reports that Beijing will also bar Team Darfur’s other co-founder, Brad Greiner, is not in keeping with China’s pledge to hold an open games. Significantly, Team Darfur never advocated a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, and yet their leaders have seen their visas revoked nevertheless.

I hope that Chinese officials will reverse this misguided decision. The world is paying close attention to the way in which Beijing conducts the Olympics as they begin. Its relationship to the government in Sudan – including weapons sales to that government – is a matter of legitimate concern to all who care about human rights and ending genocide. The hope that China would host the Games with openness is greatly diminished by this action.

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