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China: Olympic countdown to human rights reform

China: Olympic countdown to human rights reform

"By allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help the development of human rights": Liu Jingmin, Vice-President of the Beijing Olympic Bid Committee, April 2001


With 687 days to go before the start of the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government needs to work quickly if it is to fulfil its promise to the International Olympic Committee to improve human rights ahead of the 2008 Games.

In its latest assessment of the Chinese government's performance in four benchmark areas of human rights ahead of the Olympics, Amnesty International found that its overall record remained poor. There has been some progress in reforming the death penalty system, but in other crucial areas the government's human rights record has deteriorated.

"The serious human rights abuses that continue to be reported every day across the country fly in the face of the promises the Chinese government made when it was bidding for the Olympics," said Catherine Baber, Deputy Asia Pacific Director at Amnesty International. "Grassroots human rights activists -- including those working with residents forcibly evicted from buildings on Olympic construction sites -- are harassed and imprisoned. Thousands of people are executed after unfair trials for crimes including smuggling and fraud."

"There has been a renewed crackdown on journalists and internet users in the past year -- a fact that makes government commitments to 'complete media freedom' ring hollow," said Catherine Baber. "The current state of affairs runs counter to the most basic interpretation of the 'Olympic spirit' with the 'preservation of human dignity' at its heart."

Amnesty International has sent its findings to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has said it would act if human rights commitments by China were not upheld in practice. The organisation is urging the IOC to use its influence with the Chinese authorities and to speak out on behalf of individuals such as Ye Guozhu.

Ye Guozhu was forcibly evicted when his home became part of a site for development in preparation for the Olympic Games. He was sentenced to four years' imprisonment after he sought permission to organize a demonstration in Beijing with other victims of forced evictions in December 2004. Amnesty International considers Ye Guozhu a prisoner of conscience. It has recently emerged that Ye has been tortured in detention, including being suspended from the ceiling by his arms and suffering beatings with electro-shock batons.

As well as carrying out forced evictions from Olympic related sites, Beijing city authorities have decided that in order to clean up the city's image in the run-up to the Olympics, targets of 're-education through labour' -- imprisonment without charge -- should to be expanded to include 'unlawful advertising or leafleting, unlicensed taxis, unlicensed businesses, vagrancy and begging'.

"Gleaming stadiums and spectacular parades will be worthless if journalists and human rights activists still can not speak out freely, if people are still being tortured in prison, or if the government continues its secrecy about the thousands of people executed," said Catherine Baber.

"We urge the Chinese authorities to press ahead with its promises to improve human rights so that when August 2008 arrives the Chinese people can be proud in every respect of what their country has to offer the world."

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