The demonstration included members of China's main ethnic minorities – Tibetans, Mongols and Uighurs – as well as adherents of the controversial religious movement Falun Gong. They demanded greater freedom of speech, press and religion in China and extinguished a symbolic Olympic torch.
Tilman Zülch, secretary general of the German human rights group the Society for Threatened Peoples, told news agency DDP that the Olympics in China were “comparable with the games from 1936 in Berlin,” when Nazi Germany hosted the sporting event.
“These aren't the games of openness and friendship, but rather the games of repression,” he said, adding that China was a ruled by a totalitarian regime that committed human rights abuses.
A group of Tibet activists plan to hold a “protestival” at Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate to call attention to the “ongoing bad human rights situation” the Chinese-controlled province.
Günter Nooke, the human rights envoy for the German government, said earlier on Thursday he had seen no improvement in China in the run-up to the Olympics.
Nooke, who is currently in China to assess the situation firsthand, told German radio Deutschlandfunk that nothing had changed regarding China's attitude toward freedom of speech, press and the right to assembly. He said, if anything, there were more problems as human rights activists have been placed under house arrest and peaceful protests forbidden.
“It's considered very important here that there's no potential for protest,” Nooke told German news agency DPA in a separate interview in Beijing.
However, Nooke said it was also too much to ask that the country and its government undergo dramatic changes only because it was hosting the Olympics. He said he hoped after the games there would be a “positive balance” for human rights in China.
But the Chinese ambassador to Germany, Ma Canrong, warned on Thursday against dragging the Olympics into the debate over controversial issues.
“The Olympics can't solve political questions,” he told MDR radio, adding that he considered high-level governmental meetings the right forum. “Through this dialogue we thoroughly discuss sensitive questions like human rights and the death penalty.”