China revokes activist Cheek's visa
Team Darfur said Tuesday that the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., has revoked the travel visa of activist athlete Joey Cheek. The Team Darfur co-founder had planned to fly to China on Wednesday to join dozens of Beijing Olympics athletes who plan to draw attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.
"It was unexpected," Cheek said during a Tuesday night telephone interview. "The person who called me wouldn't give a name, and said there's really nothing that I can do, that my visa was no longer valid."
"I have e-mailed the Chinese ambassador in Washington, D.C., telling him that I had been given a visa, and that my flight leaves tomorrow at 1 p.m."
"The real frustrating thing is that, for the past several months as we've moved into the Olympics, there's been increasing heat on athletes who've signed on to be part of Team Darfur. They're getting messages that, basically, if they're part of Team Darfur, there might be problems, they might get harrassed."
Cheek said that he will try to meet with Chinese officials in Washington on Wednesday morning.
Another of the group's founders, former UCLA water polo player Brad Greiner, also was called on Tuesday and directed to meet with Chinese embassy officials on Wednesday, Team Darfur spokeswoman Emma Mackinnon said.
Mackinnon described the phone call that Cheek received late on Tuesday afternoon from Chinese officials as unexpected and brief. "He was told that they didn't have to give a reason for withdrawing the visa," Mackinnon said. "He's going to go to the Chinese embassy tomorrow to try and make them talk to him."
Cheek, a speedskating gold and silver medalist at the Turin Winter Olympics, had planned to attend the Beijing Games to help draw attention the ongoing genocide in Darfur.
Here is what Cheek said in a statement released by Team Darfur:
I am saddened not to be able to attend the Games. The Olympic Games represent something powerful: that people can come together from around the world and do things that no one thought were possible. However, the denial of my visa is a part of a systemic effort by the Chinese government to coerce and threaten athletes who are speaking out on behalf of the innocent people of Darfur. Team Darfur’s main efforts have been to advocate for an Olympic Truce for Darfur, and to raise awareness about the crisis and ask for lasting peace on behalf of the children of Darfur.
The Olympic Truce captures the spirit of the Olympics: around the Games, the world should come together to work for peace and speak out against conflict. The Chinese government’s efforts to suppress athletes, even those who are competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, who speak about essential human rights issues, is a violation of that core Olympic spirit.
Cheek has joined activists, including actress Mia Farrow, director Steven Spielberg and eight Nobel Peace Prize winners, in urging China to use its influence in Sudan to stop atrocities in Darfur. Sudan supplies China with oil, and China sells Sudan weapons that reportedly are being used against Darfur, where an estimated 200,000 have died and 2.5 million have become refugees since 2003.
-- Greg Johnson
Photo: Gold and silver Olympic speed skater Joey Cheek, co-founder and president of Team Darfur, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on July 1. Credit: Susan Walsh/Associated Press