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Political Activists Shun Staging Protests at Olympics

  • Brian Padden

LONDON — Despite the fact that the Olympics this year are being held in Great Britain, a country that protects free speech, so far there have been very few political demonstrations during the games. Some groups have decided that protesting during the Olympics would do more harm than good for their causes.

Maria Wenda and a small number of protesters from the Free West Papua Movement staged a demonstration in front of the Indonesian Embassy in London during the Olympics. She says the group hopes the international media here for the games will also tell the world about their cause -- to end what they say is Indonesia's occupation of West Papua and expose ongoing human rights abuses.

“This is very important and [has] big meaning for us and for West Papua people because nobody knows and what the people of West Papua, being crying and shouting for help and nobody knows and nobody hears about this.” Wenda said.

In East London near the Olympic stadium Gobi Sivanthan, with Tamils Against Genocide, is staging a hunger strike. He wants the international community to investigate the Sri Lankan government for what he says are crimes against humanity, committed against the Tamil ethnic group.

"I'm targeting international media because we don't have our media. We don't have any help from most of the international media. So I am here to get attention by democratic way and peaceful way," Sivanthan said.

In a vibrant democracy like Great Britain, political protests like these are common and legal. But during the Olympics, there have been relatively few such demonstrations. And those that have occurred have not disrupted the games.

Security analyst Valentina Soria, with the Royal United Services Institute, says British authorities have increased police and security forces during the games and let it be known they would not tolerate any demonstrations that might endanger public safety.

“We allow people to protest and to spread their dissent but always to a limited extent insofar as it doesn't really, necessarily escalate into bigger, you know, widespread disorder, which then becomes a security threat in itself,” Soria said.

Julian Cheyne with the Counter Olympics Network, a coalition group that helped organize a large protest march on the first day of the games, says most British activists have no plans to protest during the Olympics. He says his group opposes the corporate exploitation and the lack of government accountability in planning the Olympics, but not the competition itself. Disrupting the games, he says, might turn the public against their cause.

“The issue was never about that for us anyway, about trying to interrupt the sporting event and actually I think it would be futile to do that because a lot of people would be very annoyed, but actually that is not the purpose of it anyway," Cheyne said.

Cheyne says after the general good feeling generated by the Olympics fades and harsh economic realities re-emerge, political activists will again take to the streets.
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