Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Protest of Champions

USA Today reports on protests at the Vancouver games:

Hundreds of protesters have converged on the Winter Olympics host city in search of a global stage for myriad causes — from opposition to the Olympic movement to a call for Canada's withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And while the tone of recent demonstrations have become more hard-edged than last week's community center laugh-fest — at least eight people were arrested and two police officers injured during weekend clashes — police are giving protesters some room to roam.

Vancouver's response offers a stark contrast to the harsh crackdown on dissenters that accompanied the Beijing Olympics, as documented by organizations like Amnesty International. As I've argued before, permitting dissent is the smart move for countries that support free speech -- but is suppressing it the best move for countries that don't?

Obviously the prohibition of free expression looks bad to any countries that support it, and as a fierce advocate of free speech and other UDHR values, I disapprove of it myself. But I'd still like to see some statistics on how much PR damage is done by suppression, versus the amount done by protesters. Like many aspects of public diplomacy, this one is difficult to measure, but there must be some evidence proving that curbing dissent is a bad policy move. Can anyone help?

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