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Auburn man speaks out as Olympic torch visits

San Francisco protest critical of China’s human rights record
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Don Tomlinson admits his initial perception of a human rights advocate was not a good one. My first impression when I heard ˜human rights' was here's another radical group looking to give prisoners color TV, Tomlinson said. But it goes way beyond that. On Saturday the 53-year-old Auburn resident stood before a crowd of more than 200 people in San Francisco's Union Square to share his point of view on China's humans rights record. Tomlinson, a title company analyst, said he was the first American to contact the Human Rights Torch Relay. Members of the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in China, organized the campaign to spotlight the alleged torture and imprisonment of religious and political dissidents in China. Campaign organizers estimate the relay will cover six continents, 40 countries and 150 cities. After Tomlinson made initial contact with the group in September, the organization decided to hold a rally in San Francisco four days before the Olympic torch will pass through the first and only United States city on its journey. And on Saturday, Tomlinson was the final of 20 speakers to address the crowd. Reading from a prepared speech, Tomlinson asked the crowd to consider China's human rights record and what kind of information the country could be withholding. I feel every nation that bid for the Olympics has been betrayed by the promise from (China) to clean up their record of human rights as a condition for hosting the Olympics ” and seeing the opposite happen in the media, Tomlinson said in his speech. Don't get me wrong. We are not perfect here in the U.S. either, but at least we're trying. When Tomlinson first heard negative comments about China being awarded the bid for the 2008 Olympic games, he said he didn't know how to react. I started digging, Tomlinson said. The more I saw what was going on, the more angry I was. Tomlinson said he and torch movement supporters are not boycotting the games, but are against participation in the opening ceremonies. He said he thinks politics shouldn't be involved, but feels China used political tactics to win the Olympic bid. Most people (at the protest) are fans of the Olympics like I am, but to think there's no politics involved with the Olympics is naïve, he said. Weimar resident and former Special Olympics contender Dean Barrett said he wishes that politics could stay out of the Olympics. Barrett competed in the 1980 Special Olympics and said he thinks the Olympics should focus on the athletes. My thought is we wouldn't even have an Olympics if you protested everything every country did, Barrett said. It should be about the games. Barrett recalled his own incredible Olympics experience. He was a United States representative with the National Wheelchair Association. He said he believes that bringing the Olympics to a country helps to improve the country overall. I disagree with a lot of things (China) is doing, but we still have something to show them, he said. San Francisco city officials are at odds over the Olympics as well. Recently the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a nonbinding resolution that called for an investigation of China's actions in Tibet and treatment of dissidents. The resolution also protested China's human rights record. However, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said hosting the Olympics torch is an honor. He said he wanted to focus on the sports, not the politics of the international games. Tomlinson said one of his main concerns is what will happen when the Olympics conclude and there is less media attention on the country. I'll be watching the games myself, Tomlinson said. I'll have one eye on the games and one eye on China. The Associated Press contributed to this report. The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.