Activists from around the world who oppose China's repressive government and dismal human-rights record gathered at Chinese embassies in Washington, London, Madrid, Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Montreal, Rome, and Stockholm Friday morning to protest. Organizers planned to have leading dissidents give speeches at precisely 8:08 a.m. (EDT), just as the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games got underway in Beijing.
In China's capital, meanwhile, three U.S. Christian activists are now missing after Beijing officers had detained them. The trio are Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition; Michael McMonagle, a Philadelphia Catholic pro-life activist and founder of Generation Life; and Brandi Swindell, director and co-founder of Generation Life based in Boise, Idaho. On Aug. 6 plainclothes officers rounded up the three after they unfurled in Tiananmen Square a banner reading "Jesus Christ is King" in Chinese and English. That statement was made significant in China by Cardinal Kung, the Roman Catholic bishop of Shanghai, who in 1955 was sentenced to life in prison for such declarations and for his work on behalf of the underground church. The three also laid roses to honor those killed during the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
Released the same day, the three scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. Beijing time, Aug. 7. It never took place. "We have not heard from them in 14 hours," Rob Schenck, head of the National Clergy Council, told WORLD Thursday. Based on word from a fourth member of the group who has not been arrested, Schenck, who is acting as the group's spokesman in the United States, said the three were allowed to again make their way to Tiananmen Square, but plainclothes officers "immediately manhandled them" when they attempted to make public statements. Two were then again detained, but McMonagle, Schenck said, "has vaporized and we don't know where he is." Schenck had maintained cell phone contact with the activists but now suspects that their phones have been confiscated.
The Mahoney group and others have long planned to draw attention to the lack of religious freedom in China during the opening of the Olympics. Schenck told WORLD they viewed this time as "a unique window" of public scrutiny "that would also allow for a certain measure of safety-not for Chinese citizens but for outsiders to engage China's record, to be a voice and a presence on behalf of brothers and sisters in China who are persecuted."
Organizers of the protests at Chinese embassies around the world said they also want to draw attention to ongoing abuses. "Chinese human-rights activists are being detained, harassed, or forced to leave Beijing, while their supporters abroad are being prevented from going to China," read a statement from Reporters Without Borders, one of the protest organizers.
To underscore the statement, Beijing officials this week revoked a visa they already had issued to champion athlete Joey Cheek, denying the Olympic speedskater an opportunity to be on hand for the Games. Cheek organized Team Darfur to raise awareness about genocide in western Sudan and now fields a following of 400 world-class athletes, including participants at this month's Games, who believe China as the lead investor in Sudan should do more to stop the atrocities there.
Athletes comprising the U.S. Olympic team on Wednesday chose another member of Team Darfur, Lopez Lomong, to carry the U.S. flag into Beijing's stadium on behalf of his adopted nation during the opening ceremonies. Lomong, the 23-year-old Sudanese-born marathon runner, is himself a victim of war in south Sudan and one of the historic "Lost Boys" who spent a decade wandering and in refugee camps before he was granted asylum in the United States. The team's unanimous choice of Lomong ensures that politics and human-rights activism will not end with the start of the Games.