Amnesty International, in a highly critical report on the eve of the Summer Olympics, says Beijing has failed to improve its human rights record.
The global rights advocate noted that seven years ago, when Beijing was awarded the chance to host this year's Olympic Games, Chinese officials vowed to improve the rights of their citizens. But Amnesty said the Chinese authorities had instead "broken their promise...and betrayed the core values of the Olympics."
Amnesty said the authorities had stepped up the arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and ill-treatment of local human rights campaigners, journalists, lawyers, and ordinary citizens -- anyone seen as threatening the "harmony" of the Games.
Citing specific examples, Amnesty said Beijing police in May adopted a new "reeducation through labor" ordinance allowing them to remove people from the capital for "offending behavior."
In June, the authorities in Shanghai sent notices to human rights activists ordering them to report to the police every week and barring them from visiting Beijing until after the Games.
More seriously, statistics about China's use of the death penalty remain secret.
Amnesty said censorship had been tightened on both local and foreign media operating from Beijing. Government controls on Internet sites have also increased.
The group cited figures from the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, which recorded 180 instances of foreign reporters being prevented from covering "sensitive" issues in 2007. So far in 2008, that number has soared to 260.
Amnesty also noted that foreign journalists working from the just-opened Olympics press center have not been able to access the Amnesty International website or the sites of other rights organizations, in a clear violation of earlier Chinese commitments.
The rights group thus directly challenged the assertion by the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, who recently claimed that quiet diplomacy had led to human right reforms in China.
Speaking to reporters in Hong Kong late on July 28, Amnesty's Mark Allison said: "We have called on the government to allow full access to all media, both foreign and domestic, to legitimate stories of concern, so they can cover reporting freely. And we call on China to take more moves toward the abolition of the death penalty after its reinstatement to the Supreme Court review last year, particularly by being transparent about the statistics, making the statistics of executions public, and by reducing the number of crimes punished by death."
Amnesty called on the Chinese authorities to release all imprisoned peaceful activists, allow foreign and national journalists to report freely, and make further progress toward the elimination of the death penalty.
Otherwise Amnesty said China would risk "permanently sullying the legacy of the Olympics."
Allison appealed to foreign leaders attending the Olympics to raise their voices in the defense of human rights. "We continue to call on world leaders planning to attend the Games to speak out now to prevent the authorities from using their attendance as a tacit endorsement of violations perpetrated in preparation for the Olympics," he said.
But they may face an uphill battle. It has recently been made public that well-known housing rights activist Ni Yulan will be put on trial on August 4. Ni was arrested in April when she tried to stop police from knocking down her home, which she had refused to vacate for city redevelopment, despite threats and pressure from the authorities.
China's Foreign Ministry today rejected the Amnesty criticism. Spokesman Liu Jianchao said anyone who knew about China would not agree with Amnesty’s findings.