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China: Human-Rights Pressure Increases As Olympic Countdown Begins

China's official Olympic logo, to which protesters added "Free Tibet 2008" (Courtesy Photo) August 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- There is exactly one year to go before the start of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and international rights groups are marking the occasion with calls for the Chinese authorities to live up to their promises to improve human rights.

In the latest action, the Free Tibet Campaign held a spectacular demonstration on the Great Wall of China. Six activists abseiled from the top of the Great Wall, unfurling a giant 42-square-meter banner as they descended. The banner bore the message in Chinese and English: "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008."

The demonstration on August 6 lasted two hours before Chinese authorities took away the banner and the activists. The whereabouts of the six -- comprising Americans, Canadians, and a Briton -- are not known.

China As 'Free, Modern, Open'

The organizers of the protest, the London-based group Students For A Free Tibet (SFT), said today that the Chinese government is exploiting the Olympics to gain acceptance as a world power.

"China is using every opportunity that the Olympics provides to promote itself as a modern, free, and open society, and when it does that of course, it diverts attention away from its brutal occupation of Tibet, which has been ongoing for about 60 years now," spokesman Matt Whitticase told RFE/RL from Hong Kong.

Whitticase said that by protesting at the Great Wall, which he called the most recognizable symbol of China's nationhood, SFT was sending a message that China's dream of international leadership cannot be realized while it continues its occupation of Tibet.

Whitticase recalled that the head of the Swiss-based International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, promised that the IOC would ensure China improved its rights record.

"The IOC famously promised us, when it gave China the games, that human-rights abuses would get less and less [frequent], but actually, since 2005, we have seen an increase in repression of Tibetan Buddhism," Whitticase said.

Press Crackdown Continues

Not only Tibet activists have noted the upsurge of rights abuses as China gears up for the Olympic Games.

London-based Amnesty International says in a report issued on August 6 that Beijing is violating pledges made in the Olympic bidding process by increasing surveillance of religious and political dissidents, jailing journalists, and closing publications dealing with social development.

In Paris, the press-rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling for pressure on Jacques Rogge. "It's time now to ask the IOC to do something, to itself call on the Chinese authorities to release about 100 journalists, Internet users, and cyberdissidents currently jailed in China," RSF spokesman Jean-Francois Juillard said.

Juillard cast doubt on China's sincerity in the first place in suggesting the situation would improve. "They said they would improve the situation, but in fact that's not true, because journalists are still detained, censorship is still going on, hundreds of websites are still blocked, so nothing has improved," he said.

The IOC was unavailable to answer questions as to whether Rogge would raise the issue of human rights with the Chinese government, nor whether the IOC shares the common perception that rights observance in China is actually deteriorating.

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