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Rights Group Says Olympics A Disaster For China

Rights groups are looking behind the opening ceremonies
PARIS -- Press rights group Reporters Without Borders has called the Beijing Olympics a disaster for free speech in China.

In a statement, the Paris-based group said China had placed restrictions on the activities of scores of human rights and pro-Tibet activists and some foreign journalists.

Reporters Without Borders spokesman Benoit Hervieu told Reuters there were "absolutely no grounds for optimism" that the Beijing Olympics would help improve human rights in China.

The group said 47 pro-Tibet activists had been arrested and at least 50 human rights activists placed under house arrest, harassed or forced to leave Beijing during the games.

At least 15 Chinese citizens were arrested for seeking permission to demonstrate, the group added.

Hervieu said there had been no serious physical attacks on journalists but reporters had been pushed around and harassed by police to stop them covering certain events.

John Ray, a journalist from British news organization ITN, was manhandled by police as he tried to cover a pro-Tibet demonstration.

Reporters without Borders Secretary General Robert Menard said in a statement that the treatment of journalists during the Olympics would leave a bitter taste.

"This repression will be remembered as one of the defining characteristics of the Beijing games."

China Blocks Exile's Hong Kong Visit

Exiled student leader and dissident Wang Dan has been denied permission by China to travel to Hong Kong for a trip during the Olympic games, several rights groups in the city have said.

Wang, who is now exiled in the United States, had applied unsuccessfully for a visa at the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles for a trip to Hong Kong where he was invited to attend a forum organized by several religious and human rights groups.

Wang who now travels using U.S. travel papers, had held a valid Chinese passport up until 2003, but Chinese authorities have repeatedly refused to renew it since.

"We had hoped to have Wang here to exchange his views with local students," said Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, the Chairman of Homecoming, an advocacy group for exiled Chinese dissidents. "We feel great regret at this.... It is absurd that his request was rejected."

Wang, who has a doctorate from Harvard, was one of the most visible leaders of the student-led democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, which ended in a bloody crackdown by Chinese troops who opened fire on the crowds.

A group of other prominent Chinese dissidents including Yang Jianli have been blocked from traveling to Hong Kong recently, given increased sensitivities by Chinese authorities during the Olympics period.

"Wang Dan as a Chinese citizen should have the right to return home," said Lina Chan with the Justice and Peace Commission which also invited Wang to the former British colony.

Hong Kong, which was promised a high degree of autonomy upon its return from British to Chinese rule in 1997, is however home to several high profile dissidents including human rights activist Frank Lu and labor activist Han Dongfang.