NEW YORK—The opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics contained all the pageantry that one might expect from an authoritarian regime eager to burnish its global image: hundreds of children holding dove-shaped props formed the shape of a heart as they danced on a star-lit stadium, as green and white fireworks spelled out the word “spring” overhead, a reference to the lunar new year celebration.
“One world, one family,” so reads the slogan displayed to spectators in the partially-filled “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium on Jan. 4, echoing a call for unity that the Chinese regime has often repeated on the world stage over the past few years.
With this glitzy show, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is trying to take the world’s attention away from the much grimmer realities, including detention, torture, and death taking place a mere miles away from the Olympic venues, activists said.
In an interactive map released on Friday, the same day as Beijing became the world’s first country to host both the Summer and Winter Games, the Falun Dafa Information Center spotlighted over a dozen “persecution hotspots” in and around Beijing, where adherents of the persecuted faith group Falun Gong are languishing for not giving up their beliefs.
It’s the first comprehensive map of its kind to allow “a glimpse inside the places the Chinese Communist Party does not want you to see,” said the New York-based human rights group.
It took a month for the researchers to verify the details and complete the map. Many of the facilities have both a public and private name, and even two addresses, to avoid outside scrutiny. Some, serving concurrently as a labor camp, adopt a secondary name as a cover for their slave labor business, according to the researchers.
The “proximity of Olympic glory to terrible human suffering highlights the tragic and often deceptive rule of the Chinese Communist Party,” said the center’s spokesperson Erping Zhang.
“There is no other regime on earth that has the audacity, and international clout, to host the Games while simultaneously detaining such large numbers of prisoners of conscience in settings ripe with abuse and torture,” he said in a press release.
Olympic Venues Right Alongside Prison Camps
Around 10 to 20 miles away from Beijing’s major Olympic venues are over half a dozen torture facilities that hold Falun Gong detainees.
“You could literally watch the speed skating Olympic event, walk out the door from the oval, and walk 14 miles due east and you are at a prison camp where people are being incarcerated—at least one case for nine years—for their faith in Falun Gong,” Levi Browde, executive director of Falun Dafa Information Center, told The Epoch Times.
Adherents of the spiritual discipline have been subject to an over two-decade-long persecution by the communist regime, which deemed the group a threat after the practice exploded in popularity during the 1990s. Between 70 million to 100 million people were practicing Falun Gong by the end of the decade, according to estimates at the time.
Despite his years of research into the persecution campaign, seeing the facilities visually was still striking, said Browde.
“That’s sort of like going to see the Yankee Stadium and walking down to somewhere in Central Park, where there’s a prison camp.”
The detainee that Browde cited was 52-year-old Shi Shaoping, who holds a master’s degree from the photochemical institute at the country’s lead national scientific institution, the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Shi was arrested from his home in November 2019, but his family did not hear any news about his whereabouts until last April, when police notified them of Shi’s nine-year sentence at Beijing No. 2 Prison, a venue for holding death-row inmates and those serving life sentences.
For his faith, Shi had already served a 10-year prison sentence prior to this arrest. At Qianjin Prison, which is also on the interactive map, Shi was made to sit on a small stool, motionless, for up to 20 hours daily, over a few years, according to Minghui.org, a U.S.-based clearinghouse for the persecution of Falun Gong in China. On the coldest winter days, guards would leave the window wide open, causing Shi’s whole body to shiver. He was once barred from using the restroom for an entire month.
Sixteen miles away from the same venue, where the speed skating competition will commence on Feb. 5, is Beijing Women’s Prison, where artist Xu Na was held until this January.
Months before the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, police arrested Xu and her husband Yu Zhou during an “Olympic check,” after discovering Falun Gong books in their car. Yu, a folk singer and musician, died in detention 11 days later, on the eve of Chinese New Year. Xu subsequently spent three years in jail.
Three weeks ahead of Winter Olympics, on Jan. 14, Xu was handed another eight-year jail term for her role in supplying photos to The Epoch Times that documented the early months of the pandemic.
The tragedies of Shi and Xu, traversing two Olympics, should make plain to the international community that the regime has not at all changed, said Browde.
“Too often, they would look at the high rise buildings and all the Starbucks around Beijing, and they think, ‘oh, this is the new China,’” he said. “They just think it’s better and more civilized.”
“Seeing Olympic venues right alongside prison camps … where people are incarcerated and tortured because of their faith makes the deception and the hypocrisy of the CCP very clear.”
By Eva Fu