Standing in the rain on a Sunday in Tian’anmen Square, Beijing, my shoulder is grabbed from behind by a secret police official. A military policeman holds an umbrella for him. He demands my papers, asks who I am and why I’m in China. I say I’m a student, and that I want to see Tian’anmen. He’s not amused, but looks down and reads “Oh, Australian”. He pushes my passport into my chest without checking, and tells me to move along. We stood on concrete hosed clean of the blood of students.
Twenty-six years ago, on June 4th, 1989, The Square saw thousands of students and protesters executed by a brutal regime, for speaking out against it. Today, the only reminder is hundreds of security cameras and armed officials—and legislation forbidding discussion (or internet searches) of the event.
For the rest of my time in China I thought about how my citizenship was all I needed to protect me from the same people who arrested and beat a Chinese tourist who posed in the square making the peace sign. The same people who, just this week, are responsible for the disappearing of six human rights activists and lawyers.
We like to think we’re beyond that kind of silence at home. But we aren’t.
In March this year, a UN special investigation found Australia to be in breach of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment because of the way we have ‘solved’ the ‘problem’ of people who seek the inalienable legal right of refuge.
We can’t look down on something like the CPC’s violent censorship of Tian’anmen while Australia willfully quiets the abuse of the most vulnerable people in the world. We are breaking international law and convention, denying people a right that our government cannot lawfully withhold.
The passport I was required to carry gave me certainty. I felt safe tracing the silver star, shield, kangaroo and emu with my fingertips whenever I was waiting in security lines or for an officer to clear me, because I knew these shapes meant protection.
I don’t want the document from the country I love so much, which represents such incredible freedom for me, to represent state-sanctioned oppression of those with the audacity to not be born rich or within the shores of the lucky country.
We are appallingly comfortable with this double standard. For Australians to joke about The Great Firewall or CPC doublespeak is to take a high ground we do not deserve. Our euphemism of “operational matters” is obscene and embarrassing. We are sweeping people into cages far away and somehow, housing prices in Sydney are a bigger issue.
We have blood on our concrete, and “Oh, Australian”, doesn’t cut it.