Wed, Aug 08, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Beijing not on track, activists say

PROMISES, PROMISESAmnesty International led the criticism of the hosts of next year's Olympics, saying human rights were still not being respected


China's preparations for the Olympic Games have so far not included promised improvements to civil liberties and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) must step up pressure on Beijing to deliver on its pledge of guaranteed press freedoms, activist groups said yesterday.

Chinese authorities have not kept pledges made when bidding for the games by heightening abuse and surveillance of political and religious dissidents, jailing journalists, and closing publications focusing on social development, human rights group Amnesty International said in a new report.

With just one year before the games, time is "running out for the Chinese government to fulfill its promise of promoting human rights as part of the Olympics legacy," Amnesty's secretary-general, Irene Khan, said in a statement. "Unless the Chinese authorities take urgent measures to stop human rights violations over the coming year, they risk tarnishing the image of China and the legacy of the Beijing Olympics."

The Committee to Protect Journalists said when the IOC awarded the 2008 Olympics to Beijing seven years ago, it had promised to ensure that reporters could report freely in China.

Under a regulation announced last year, foreign reporters can travel and conduct interviews in China without asking for government approval from Jan. 1 until the middle of October next year. The temporary freedoms do not extend to local Chinese journalists.

The group called on the government to free 29 journalists jailed in China and to loosen restrictions on local reporters. It also called on the IOC to pressure China more aggressively on press freedom issues.

Amnesty's report comes on the heels of one issued last week by Human Rights Watch, which also said the Chinese government had failed to live up to promises of greater human rights, instead clamping down on domestic activists and journalists.

Amnesty's release came as six activists were detained Tuesday after scaling down a part of the Great Wall with a large banner that read "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008," the London-based Free Tibet Campaign and Students for a Free Tibet said in an e-mail statement.

Activists say China is using the Olympics to underscore its claims on Tibet, which is says it has ruled for centuries. But many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially an independent state for most of that time. Chinese communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951, and Beijing continues to rule the region with a heavy hand.

On Monday, police detained journalists at a rare protest in Beijing staged by a free-press advocacy group that accused the Chinese government of failing to meet pledges for greater media freedom.

The detentions, which came during a visit to Beijing by IOC president Jacques Rogge, followed the unfurling of posters depicting the Olympic rings made from handcuffs by members of Reporters Without Borders on a pedestrian bridge outside the headquarters of the Beijing Olympics planning committee.

The Paris-based group said China continues to restrict press freedoms and lock up journalists, political dissidents and activists who publish on the Internet -- despite pledges to liberalize made when bidding to stage the games.

The Beijing Olympics, which begin on Aug. 8 next year, are a huge source of pride for China. In bidding for the games back in 2001, Chinese leaders promised IOC members that the Olympics would lead to an improved climate for human rights and media freedom.

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