A German church has far exceeded its initial expectations in so far distributing more than 200,000 black bracelets intended as a symbolic protest against human rights abuses in China during the Olympic Games in Beijing.
"It shows that people want to stand up for others and show what they believe in," said Bishop Margot Kässmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover who launched the initiative in March. The Olympic Games open on 8 August in Beijing.
Kässmann told the German Protestant news agency epd on 16 July 2008 that the reaction to the initiative had been overwhelming. Originally 2000 bracelets were produced for athletes and others attending the games, to be worn as a protest against the violation of human rights in China and Tibet. The idea then found a huge response in schools, sports clubs and church congregations.
The black silicon bracelets are inscribed with a verse from the Bible, "righteousness [justice] and peace will kiss each other" (Psalm 85.10).
Kässmann said that standing up for human rights is in line with the Olympic ideal. "We're looking forward to the sporting event, but we should not be so dazzled by the gleaming skyscrapers that we forget that human rights are violated in China," she said.
More than 30,000 euros have already been raised for the Asian Human Rights Commission, a Honk Kong-based human rights group. Those ordering the bracelets are requested to make a donation to the organization.
The sports commissioner of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Valentin Schmidt, praised the action. "It helps to further increase people's awareness of human rights," Schmidt said, adding he hopes the issue will remain in the public awareness after the games.
Schmidt pointed out that the athletes in Beijing are not allowed to wear the bracelets at the competition venues or in the Olympic village, where political demonstrations, and banners, posters and ribbons are forbidden.
However, the "German House" in Beijing, where German broadcasters will have their studios for the Olympic Games is not considered an Olympic venue, says the German Olympic Sports Federation. Athletes would therefore be free to express their own opinions at the daily press conferences that are to take place there, Schmidt noted.
The bracelets can be requested by e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line: "Olympia 2008".
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]