Global Athlete
Global Athlete

Episode · 6 months ago

Peng Shuai Disappearance and the IOC with Peter Dahlin


Peter Dahlin discusses his Open Letter to the International Olympic Committee “IOC” about the disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. The IOC has helped the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) kill the story rather than helping ensure Peng’s safety and freedom. Dahlin explains why the IOC's actions are so problematic.

In this episode, we talk about…

  • The use of disappearance in China as a tool of the State
  • Why Peng’s media appearances fit a pattern of staged public appearances for disappeared people
  • Peng’s sexual assault allegations that led to her disappearance and the lack of a #MeToo movement in China
  • How the IOC is doing the bidding of the CCP
  • Why Peng is better off with consistent international attention
  • The contrast between the IOC’s response to Peng’s disappearance and that of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA)
  • The IOC’s failure to be politically neutral
  • What the IOC could have done instead
  • What athletes and others concerned about Peng’s safety can do going forward

Memorable Quotes:

  • “We know for sure that she is not free and that leaves only two options. One is that she is placed under house arrest where she has minders from the police controlling her at home and guiding every aspect of her life. Or if that is not enough or is not suitable for them, instead placing her into the RSDL system.”
  • “The #MeToo movement has largely ignored China. In China they have successfully – through censorship – managed to keep this movement and these discussions at bay. It’s very important for them to do that because every society is plagued with these issues, but China is particularly prone to sexual misconduct and the use of power relations from older men against younger women. It’s almost built into the governance system. So, the fact that she could spark a greater movement related to Me Too – that’s what really is the big concern within the party.”
  • “The reason I was angry enough to write this letter is that we know with certainty that attention helps – when they’re inside, the treatment gets better. Whether it’s media attention, diplomatic pressure – it doesn’t really matter. It helps every single time. So, the fact that [the IOC] is assisting the Chinese Communist Party in killing the story is troublesome because they are intentionally hurting an athlete rather than helping said athlete.”
  • “We don’t know whether or not this man is guilty for sure but it does fit a very common behavior in China, and what we need to push for here is a proper investigation. The IOC has an important role to play here because this person is the director of the committee handling preparations for the Games. It’s incredibly important the IOC at the very least act impartially.”
  • “I don’t think anyone is looking at expanding a boycott of the Games because I don’t think anyone really wants that, especially at this late stage. And I don’t think anyone is expecting athletes to speak out at the Games because that could bring them in jeopardy as well. Right now, it’s more important on pushing the IOC to actually adhere to their neutrality and continue to raise her case in media, in social media, etc.”

Guest Bio:

Peter Dahlin is a human rights activist and the director of Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO that undertakes and supports local field activities that contribute to the protection of basic rights, promote the rule of law, and enhance the ability of local civil society and human rights defenders in some of the most hostile environments in Asia. In 2016, Dahlin was secretly detained (disappeared) in China for 23 days for running a Beijing-based rights organization called China Action – the predecessor to Safeguard Defenders. While detained Dahlin was blindfolded, denied access to his embassy, exhaustively interrogated, and kept from sleeping. After his detention, he was deported from China under the espionage act

Links to Resources:

Dahlin’s Open Letter to IOC on Peng Shuai 

Safeguard Defenders 

Article from The Guardian about Dahlin’s Disappearance: A human rights activist, a secret prison and a tale from Xi Jinping's new China

New York Times Article about the China, the IOC, and Peng Shuai: Its Human Rights Record in Question, China Turns to an Old Friend 

Follow Dahlin on Twitter @Peterinexile and follow Global Athlete @GlobalAthleteHQ . Get in touch a t and join the movement at .

Welcome to the Global Athlete podcast, conversations about power, accountability, and athlete rights in international sport. I' m Noah Hoffman. if you' ve been a consistent listener to this podcast, you know that in October we re - released several interviews from prior episodes. This was part of a project to migrate the most informative conversations from the podcast onto the global Athlete website As stand alone content. going forward, the focus of this podcast will be to create educational resources about issues in international sport. This means that new episodes will be focused on a single topic and won' t include a current events segment prior to the main interview. They also won' t come out regularly, but if you keep an eye on this feed, you' ll still find new conversations as soon as they drop. Also, you can now find all of the conversations from this podcast in a streamlined, easy to navigate format at globalathlete. org/ athleteresources. This episode we’ re talking about the International Olympic Committee’ s handling of the disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. Peng went missing on November 2nd after accusing Chinese Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. On November 21st, the International Olympic committee held a video call with Peng, claiming that she is safe and free but refusing to release the video of the call and refusing to even mention her sexual assault allegations. on December 1st, they held a second call with Peng. Today We are speaking with Swedish human rights activist Peter Dahlin about why the IOC' s actions are so problematic. Peter has first hand experience with the Chinese Communist Party' s practice of disappearing people they perceive as problematic. in 2016 he was secretly detained in China for twenty three days for running a Beijing- based rights Organization called China Action. While detained, Peter was blindfolded, denied access to his embassy, exhaustively interrogated, and kept from sleeping. after his detention, He was deported...

...from China under the Espionage Act, and he now continues his human rights work from abroad. Peter spoke to me while on vacation for the holidays, and I' m very grateful for his time. here' s our conversation. Peter Dallin is the director of safeguard defenders, an NGO focused on protecting human rights. Peter, Welcome to the Global Athlete podcast. thanks for having me. so we' re going to get into this open letter- The reason we had you on is because you wrote this open letter to the IOC that I think is really impactful that I want to highlight for the athlete community. but I want to start with kind of- Can you talk about your connection, your background and the work you do at Safeguard defenders, but maybe more importantly your history with China. Yeah for sure. I actually moved to China not long before the prior Olympics, the 2008 Summer Games. So I moved there in early 2007 and throughout my time, I was I was living there for ten years working with these issues, as you mentioned, humor rights issues, rule of law, the right to a fair trial and one of the things that we came across throughout that work and at later I sort of had to experience personally was the extensive use of disappearances rather than detentions and arrest by the authority of anyone considered to be a a troublesome person to the party or the states and the other one being being forced offered to extensive torture. To give these stage managed appearances, often on TV that are used to deflect criticism to attack others, including foreign governments, and sort of praise, the police praise the government praise to party and when control I first disappeared and then later we started seeing these sort of social media activities to begin with the so called...

...letter. Later these, what looks like stage managed appearances. It was a little bit of a day Shaou for myself and many of the colleagues that I ' ve had throughout the years that have been through a lot of this and at first I personally didn' t make that much of it because it was in the sports world, which is something very different from from what I deal with. But then, when the I was see engaged on behalf of the state of the party. That second time, I thought it was unforgivable and that' s when I say ju sat down one afternoon and just wrote that letter on the spot and posted it to the IRC, who has not responded in any way shape or form. But it did get. I guess conversation going about these issues and in the situation the poem is likely in right now yeah. So it certainly caught our attention, those of us kind of in the Olympic world who who are focused on Pung Safety and on her sexual assault allegation. So, let' s back up a little bit So on November, second PUNCTA posted on the Chinese social media platform. We Bo and detailing sexual assault allegations against Jean Gaily, which WHO' s a high ranking Communist Party official, accusing him of sexually assaulting her between twenty thirteen and two thousand and eighteen within twenty minutes. Her post was taken down and for twelve days nobody saw or heard from her. She was essentially wiped from the Internet in China. the word tennis and the surname Pong were centered in China and she was completely as you say, disappeared. So can you talk about as much as you' re comfortable with your personal experience with disappearance and what it means to be disappeared in China? Well, disappearances to begin with, of course, it' s always existed on an ad hawk basis as a as an...

...extra tool available to the police if normal channels are not appropriate. What we ' ve seen with the rise of sheeting pin is that they' ve legalized an institutionalized, the use of disappearances, there' s either, there' s even aims for it. Now, even there are, as in many times no reliable statistics. We' ve been able to produce a number of reports, a drawing on government data that shows not only that the amount of disappearances are increasing significantly, but it' s reached somewhere around twenty to twenty five thousand people per year. At the very least, so they have a number of tools that are disposable and the most common one is something called R S: D, L or residential surveillance at a designated location. It allows the police, without any court order to take you off the street without notifying anyone and keeping you in secret jails for up to half a year where you kept incommunicado you' re not allowed access to legal counsel and the location again is kept secret as to where it are. So. This is a tool being used extensively by the government to deal with lawyers, journalists, labor rights, activist, social media, people that are say political in nature and is particularly used in cases where there' s a public opinion issue to consider, because the allowance of the disappearance and holding someone in Communicato gives the the party and the state a lot of power how to manage the public opinion aspect of your disappearance. So it' s become very popular and again it' s been expanding rapidly over the last few years and it' s it' s very problematic, of course, because it undermines any basic medle safe cards, any form of due process, and it gives the police complete power to basically... whatever they want, because once you' re inside one of these systems, these secret jails, there is no supervision of any kind. Not even the prosecutor will come to visit you, as so they have six months, you' re sitting inside a suicide padded cell always kept in solitary confinement under their spell. Basically, so it' s a very it' s a simier significant system that they' re using to attack civil society and an anyone deemed a threat- and I guess that' s sort of the issue here was with pond- is that she accused John Galley for for sexual assaults, and this is a man who was a vice minister. He was on the Standing Committee of the Polo bureaus of the highest organ of power in China, he' s also the lead organizer for the preparation of the two thousand and twenty two winter Olympic Games. So the timing of our accusation and the person who was directed against of course made her case extraor in the eyes of the police in the state. So before we get into the action of guy or see how do you know that this is what happened to Ponga? She disappeared from public view and but she' s since made some reappearances. So what are the signs that you see that you know that she that this that she this is often one of the problems with China- we don' t know it' s important to point- that there simply isn' t information. We believe that even for the Chinese Communist Party with the Olympic coming up and the nature of the allegations that you would be too much to stomach even for them to place her under formal arrest, so we do not believe there' s any actual judicial process against her. We know for sure O that she... not free and that me is only two options. One is that she ' s placed under house arrest where she has essentially minders from the police controlling her at home and guiding. Basically, every aspect of our life, or if that is not enough or it' s not suitable for them, instead placing her into the Rsey, so how teris would be a less severe form, but the ultimate goal, of course, is none the less the same, and that is to control her control, her appearances and use her to sort of manage the the public relations debark that are in right now, and so we know that she' s under control. that' s for sure we just don' t know which method is being employed, and this is all just to be clear because she threatens the the image that the legitimacy of the Candes Communist Party, not because you know she broke an e law by making these allegations now, we don' t think there' s going to be any legal process against her and frankly, I think many people assume that she were aware of just how serious her actions were in the eyes of the Party and this sort of ties down to the fact that that me, two movement which has sort of swept the world, has large me e cador China in China. They have successfully through censorship, managed to keep this this movement and these discussions at pay- and it' s very important for them to do that, because you know every society is played with these issues. There ' s no society that doesn' t have these issues that the me two movement is about. But China is particularly prone for sexual misconduct and the use of sort of power relations from older men against younger women, it sort of almost built into the governance system. So the fact that she could spark a...

...greater movement related to me to that' s. What really is the big concern? I think within the Party we sit here and we discuss pung a lot and it' s good because it provides her with safety, but at the same time, there' s a great many young, often white, collar university, educated, women' s rights activist and Lgbtq activists who are facing far worse suppression and repression. Many of them who have disappeared into the RSEY tem. We know for sure over the last couple of months, but they' re, not famous people, so they don' t really get the attention. But there is a concerted effort across the country to make sure to suppress the me to movement and reason they could spark these discussions especially related to the state or the party. So what she did is it represents a significant threat to the party. Even though again she is not a humorist defector. We do not believe she did this for any political reason. We think she is just you know a woman at her with and who, who posted this, to get it off recest and wasn' t really aware of what was about to hit the fan so to say: okay, so let' s loop in the IOC here and talk about what outside people outside of China groups outside of China like the IRC, what kind of impact they have when somebody high profile like pong disappears. So you know to start with athletes aout the world, some of the world' s most famous tennis players were posting with the Hashtag. Where is punk way, and the pressure was growing on outside groups to to be involved at Ta was very, very strong, coming out with statements saying they needed independent verification of punches whereabout that she was free, that she had an independent investigation was conducted into her allegations, threatening and...

...eventually acting on the threat to pull all of their events from China, and eventually the IOC also felt that pressure. We were pressuring the IC to suspend the Chinese Olympic Committee until Pong was fully until you know fully freely allowed to speak, and an investigation was done into her allegations. Instead, the IOC on November twenty first held this video call with Pong. We don' t know how they were connected with Pan on the call was the president of the IOC and the president, the IOS Athletes Commission, as well as an IOC athletes, Commission, member in China and then on December. Second, a further calls that their first interaction with Pong was not did not prove her freedom. They held a second call. Even fewer details of this call were released. Can you so and that' s what sparked your letter? I can you speak about these actions to the IRC and why they were harmful and how the W ta contrast yeah for sure one thing, I want to point out that, on December, eighth, together with an international barrister in London, called Michael Pollack, safe card defenders actually filed an official ethics complained to the IRC against the IC precedent outlining in what way their actions are violating the shorter of the IRC sort of adding to the seriousness of the accusations. As I said in my letter, I think the first time around when they had this rather mysterious video call. It was obviously not the right thing to do, but you know giving them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they didn' t know any better. I don' t necessarily think that' s true, but there' s no reason not to give them the benefit of the doubt at least the second time around. It' s a whole different story.

The problem is that this is an organization that is claiming political neutrality, and this is the line they tend to use to deflect any criticism, and you know some people are for some people are against that. I don' t personally have an opinion on this, but but their actions against or in this particular case are the opposite of political neutrality because they are doing the bidding of the Chinese commonist party. These two press conferences or press releases from the IRC only seems to help the Chinese Communist Party kill the story basically, and luckily it has not been atire is successful. Walthoe has certainly put the lid on discussions a little bit. Secondly, what' s very interesting is that they have they claimed to have held these video calls, but they release really no information from them. So we cannot actually see these calls. we don ' t actually know any transcripts or anything like that. The difference, of course, whether W TA is glaring, The WT is obviously read up. There is a fair amount of information about these video confessions and how they' re scripted there' s a lot of information about that and the WT has taken that to heart in their analysis of of what this means. The IC, of course, has not. They basically start ahead in the sand and have also cart from the public. The fact that the QC Joan Galli actually knows the precedent of the IRC and have been having a number of meetings since he' s been leading the pre comedy four hitee thousand and twenty two games. So there' s quite a lot going on here that that simply does not look good. The optics are terrible for for for The icy, especially considering that their shorter discusses basic human rights as the underpinning of the actions of the IRC in this go straight against that and the reason I guess why I...

...was any enough to sort of write this letter is that as part of my work in China, one of the things that we do is we for many years conducted exit interviews with people coming out of prison, coming out of arrest or detention coming out of disappearances, and we know with certainty that every single person have told us the same thing that attention helps when they' re inside the treatment gets better. Whether it' s media attention diplomatic pressure, it doesn' t really matter. it helps every single time. So the fact that there assistingly shine his Communist Party in killing the story is troublesome because they are intentionally hurting an athlete rather than helping said as met and if they actually paid attention to the material available out there. They would know that, and despite that they' re taking these actions- and it' s despicable really that' s the part that I really want to hone in on, because that' s the part there to me was so eyeopener. It was like, Oh, like we understand that what the ice is doing is harmful kind of in our gut, but you, you really in the letter, were able to articulate exactly why it is harmful. So can you hone in a little bit on on how the IOC video calls are helping the Communist Party? You know silence the end of the story, as You say. Well, one of the three people that' s been involved in the IC' s management of this case is Nisi, I think as names which is on the Chinese. I C Athletics Committee, who is a very highly placed person within the shiny states, bureaucracy so directly acting on behalf of the Chinese government. I' m pretty sure. That' s how the connection was made, the call and the fact that they haven' t released a call itself,...

...only information that they had. It, of course, is only there to soothe people to think that the situation with pomes or fine, when obviously the situation is the exact opposite. It' s very problematic that they would go about in this particular manner, because right now, the number one priority, as we' ve seen through state AEDIA through official statements from the government, is to put the story behind them and move on it' s very dangerous to have this discussion on going because it could cross the great firewall and become a topic with in China. So far, they' ve been successful in blocking that. We' ve also seen the end of the discussion about John Galli, the former vice premier and his role in all this. As you know, someone who' s accused of sexual assault, as so the ifs two videos have directly helped e the the CCP in their politicals. They received nothing else. They have not held poem, they have not had any other O alternative objectives. It' s only help the CCP in their primary voules and that that in itself should be problematic for the IRC on your website, and I encourage people to go to the safeguard defenders website. You have some really incredible graphics about how these video confessions work and even, if there' s somebody external, like the president of the IOC on the other end of the call, and it' s a live appearance, it does not necessarily mean that the person on video is free. Can you explain as best as possible kind of what? what captivity means when you' re on a video call with the IOC and speaking freely with the IOC, while not free yeah? I mean a good example would be someone I known going back many year. Her Her name is one you. She is one of the most respected lawyers in China. Both she and her husband were disappeared for six months.

They were both tortured systematically for the six months and the government Li desperately to make them record videos that could be broadcast on TV. It was important because this woman, one you was awarded a big award in the United States. They police then took in their teenage son recorded on video, the police beating their son and then showed that video to them and finally, they relented. they agreed like many others to rehearse a script, questions an answer written by the police, and then they were taken to a nice looking guard and cafe. Everything was recorded and then of course aired on TV repeatedly and they would take it back into into tastily again, so that, like two minute clip that we see sitting in a sunny garden was preceded with like a six months period of first torture and then preparation for this interview, and this is very common, and this is something that I went through myself. I spent quite a lot of time preparing in the questions and the answers that, in my case, Ministry of State Security officials had written for me. I had to rehearse it over and over and when I was making the recording. All you see, of course, is me, but behind me it' s a dozen agents from the Ministry of State Security acting as directors. Producers put on this close, speak, slower, speak, faster, look, sad or sit street. It' s really like an entire theater production from beginning to end. So what you see on the screen has really nothing to do with reality. Exactly how well guided PUM has been in her video cause. We don' t know because from what we' ve heard, at least from...

...the IRC, it' s only her in front of the videos clang on her computer or possibly her phone. It wouldn' t stop it from being fifteen police officers standing around her in a ring as she' s making. This call and that' s pretty common from the many many victims that we have talked to and has been shown in several of our reports, as well as a book that deals with this very one particular issue. These stage managed appearances on video to jump ahead quickly. So on December, nineteenth, just four days ago from when we were speaking here on December, twenty third Pong talked with a Singaporean newspaper. You know a newspaper for the first time media outside of China. Can you talk about why that does or does not comport to her disappearance? Well, the I did see the interview. the mediate question has pretty strong links to the shine state. to begin with, the appearance of the journalist at the location. That' s supposed to be random is quite suspicious and, of course, Pulin speaks about the initial letter that was released to the W ta. This was sort of the beginning of the whole drama, claiming because there' s been a lot of questions about that letter because it was very suspicious. She was claiming that she needed help from Chinese state media to translate it, but people, of course, dug up and found press interviews almost a decade old, which he bes. Flor was English, so everything sort of just adds to suspicious that this is a continuation of stage managing her appearances, and this is going to continue. We are not seeing the end of this as long as this is a discussion being held, we' re going to see more and more different forms of of appearances up until recently, the most logical sort of development here would be for her to appear on Shine' s national TV. This is something that they'... been doing with a lot of people. For many years, but that ' s fortunately not possible for them anymore because of our continued campaigning against using television for these kind of force, confessions that takes place always before trial many times when people are not not even formally arrested, and they had there their license taken off in the UK in Norway, Sweden, Australia. So they don' t dare to air these kind of televised confessions on national TV anymore and because of this work. Otherwise we were to see her on TV long ago, and I still believe that the s a final resort here for them is for her to arrange some kind of opera s type interview on CCTV, the Chinese national TV broadcaster, if it is required, but as long as we keep talking about the issue pulling it safer, but it also means that the government will have to continue to try to find ways to counter the criticism and the questions so is. Should that be our goal for athletes who are concerned about pong? Safety is just to continue the conversation. Obviously, the Wa' s action of suspending events in China does continue the conversation, if also from an athlete standpoint. It you know it hurts athletes, it eliminates opportunities for athletes to compete, to do their jobs to make money. If we were to talk about the IOC, suspending the Chinese National Olympic Committee or even threatening to you know, pull the Beijing Olympics. That would also have an enormous cost for athletes. So can you talk about you know? It is the end goal just to continue talking about this and continue the conversation. Do really substantive. You know action like pulling all WT events from China. Do those have a big impact? What if What is effective here? What...

...can the athlete community do to insure Pong' s freedom? Well, I think that this is going to company stage. Is the first situation to deal with? He really is her situation until the game is held, and for that purpose I think it' s important to continue talking about it to continue raising questions. I think it' s important for people involve not just in tennis, but you know, participating as athletes or for former athletes to just continue to raise the issue to not forget about the issue and also not forget that at the center of all, this is not just punctu herself, but also, of course, John Galdy who stands accused for. For for for this behavior, that' s going to be very important to make sure that she' s safe until the Olympics. I don' t think we' re going to see a resolution to her situation until after the Games are over. At that point, I think it' s important to continue to push that. We don' t know whether or not this man is guilty for sure, but it does fit a very common behavior in China and what we need to push for here really is a proper investigation, and the IO C has an important role to play here, because again this person is the director of the committee handling preparations for the game. It' s incredibly important that the ice at the very least act impartially here. So that' s going to be incredibly important to push, and I think if we do that, we got to also make sure that there' s no later legal process against pom. I don' t think anyone is really looking at expanding a boycott of the games, because I don' t think anyone really wants that, especially at this late stage- and I don' t think anyone says expecting athletes to speak out at the Games, because that could bring them, of course in jeopardy as well. So I think right now, it' s more important to focus on pushing the IRC to actuallyi adhere to their neutrality at...

...the very least, and continue to raise her case in media and social media et CA. I think we have to be a realistic of what we can expect other people to do here, and I say- and I think the issues that I manaton are are reasonable things and something that I think everyone else would like done to them if they were in the same situation, just latching onto one thing. You just said where we expect it at the very least neutrality from the IOC. Would you had? Would we be better off? If the IOC had done nothing in this situation, I don' t that doesn' t seem like it' s advancing. You know continuing to talk about Pong situation, but maybe at least it would have gotten out of the way and stopped the you know the CCP from being able to claim that Pong is just fine. Would nothing have been better than what they' ve done? I think so. I think the automatic response should have been. This is the request from the W TA pome should be speaking with the W TA and the hines. I C committee should be dealing with Steve Simon on this issue. this is not an issue for the IC, unless you, you know, wish to form to defile a formal complaint or start some kind of formal process, and that would have been far superior than the way that they have engaged with the Chinese Communist Party and he and beshits police for or I I personally say that they' ve done, they' ve taken the worst decision possible, really also in terms of hurting their own credibility and their legacy for future games. The way they have behaved have really hurt themselves more than anything else, and staying silent would have been actually better than what they' ve done, because it would at least have proved the commitment to political neutrality on some level and now, instead, they made a farce. Out of...

...the whole thing, we will leave it there. Peter Dallin is the director of Safeguard Defenders, Peter, as you all continue on this court of this work involving athletes involving pong involving the IOC in the Olympics. Please keep us in mind as athletes as allies in this work, and let us know what we can keep talking about it, we' re going to keep talking about Pong and her disappearance and we' re going to keep this on the forefront. So thank you So much for all of your work and thank you for your time today. I know it' s on it' s vacation. It' s right before the holidays really appreciate you speaking with me thanks for having me, that' s it for this episode of the Global Athlete Podcast as always get in touch with any questions or comments. You can reach us at Hello, a global athlete dot, org or a global athlete. HQ On twitter and Instagram keep an eye On this feed for new conversations about pressing issues and international sport governance, our team included, Brishe, Rob Keeler and Julia Barton. I' m Noah Hoffman see you next time.

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