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China: Amnesty International Blasts Rights Observance Ahead Of Olympics

  • Breffni O'Rourke

http://gdb.rferl.org/97BA9817-EAD0-4B72-9423-83183E74A3B6_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/97BA9817-EAD0-4B72-9423-83183E74A3B6_mw800_mh600.jpg Cleaning up the streets of Beijing (file photo) (epa) PRAGUE, September 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Human rights group Amnesty International says Beijing is not living up to its promise to improve human rights practices, made when China was awarded the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. In a report handed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Amnesty warns that the situation is deteriorating, instead of getting better.

The 2008 Olympics mean a great deal to China. Commentators have said the event could mark China's arrival on the world stage by projecting the image of a modern, efficient, and open country.

Chinese officials have announced that many of the lavish Olympic sports facilities are already finished, meaning that last-minute rushes typical of Olympic preparations should be avoided.

Behind The Scenes

But other aspects of the preparations are not going so well. The London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International says the human rights scene in China is actually getting worse, instead of better, as it is supposed to.

In the fiercely competitive bidding for the 2008 games, the Chinese Olympic Committee promised in 2001 that the domestic observance of human rights would improve. The committee suggested the presence of the IOC, and the games themselves, would help improve the rights situation.

But that is not happening, says Amnesty International. The group says serious human rights abuses continue to be reported every day across the country, and these fly in the face of official promises.

Amnesty International China researcher Corinna-Barbara Francis told RFE/RL that the group is disappointed, given the expectations it had and the promises of Chinese authorities.

"At least over the last year, we have seen a deterioration in a number of areas. There's quite a strong crackdown on journalists, on lawyers, and [on] other human rights defenders. Recently there has been a whole series of lawyers -- particularly those who work in the human rights area -- who have been detained, sentenced, and imprisoned."

In The Wrong Direction

Francis says the Chinese authorities are also "really tightening up" in areas of free expression.

"They have added new layers of control on the Internet," Francis says. "And just in the last couple of weeks, we've seen even a tightening of news coming from foreign news agencies -- [and] those are just some of the examples."

Francis says that both the Chinese government and the IOC should be held accountable for the promises they made during the site selection process. She recalls that the IOC said during the bidding process that it would keep an eye on China's progress in implementing human rights.

The Swiss-based IOC interprets its role differently. Spokeswoman Giselle Davies says it is not the place of the Olympic committee to bring pressure on foreign governments on "complex" political matters. That is "unrealistic," she says.

Too Early To Tell?

Davies also says that there are nearly two years to go before the Beijing Games, and it is "premature" to say that China has failed to live up to its promises.

But Amnesty's Francis wants the IOC to take a more active stance.

"They have a responsibility to monitor the situation, and I believe they have the responsibility to communicate to the Chinese government if they feel there are areas in which China has not lived up to its promises," Francis says.

The 29th Summer Olympiad of the modern era starts in Beijing on August 8, 2008, and ends just over two weeks later.
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