Next year's Olympics is being used as a catalyst for repression in China, allowing hardliners to crack down on peaceful dissent in the name of stability, according to Amnesty International.
The rights group gave China a failing grade in its third report since 2005 on the Olympic host nation's performance in living up to international human rights standards in the run-up to the August 2008 Games in Beijing.
Citing "little evidence of reform" in several areas, the report, to be released today, painted a bleak picture showing the Olympics "as a catalyst (for) a continued crackdown on human rights defenders, including prominent rights defense lawyers and those attempting to report on human rights violations."
Amnesty, accused by Beijing last year of mounting politically motivated attacks on China, welcomed new measures adopted recently by Chinese authorities concerning the death penalty and media freedoms.
But it said they were overshadowed by the state's obsession with stability and a "strike hard" policy adopted to counter peaceful dissent.
The London-based group said the International Olympic Committee, which awarded China the 2008 Games, should use its "significant influence" on the Chinese authorities to continue to raise human rights issues in the run-up to the Games.
The IOC executive board, meeting in Beijing recently, said it was a sports organization with no political role.
The Amnesty Report cited a call by China's minister of police last month for a crackdown on "hostile forces" including religious sects and separatists ahead of the Olympics.
"We must strike hard at hostile forces both in and outside the nation," said Zhou Yongkang, urging the crackdown by security to uphold the goal of creating the "harmonious society" advocated by President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).
The so-called "strike hard" policy was apparent during March's two-week session of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, Amnesty said.
A security clampdown on central Beijing accompanied the session and according to some sources thousands of people were locked up in what was widely seen as a security rehearsal for next year's Games.
The report emphasized relaxation of media rules for foreign reporters in China in the lead-up to the Games and a new measure granting China's Supreme Court judicial review of death penalty sentences.
But not enough was known about the latter measure, with little transparency concerning its operation, the report said, while the number of executions in China - the highest in the world according to estimates - still remained a state secret.
Amnesty also noted that in September last year new measures tightened control over the distribution of news by foreign media organizations in China, prohibiting dissemination of news deemed to "endanger China's national security, reputation and interests."
At the same time censors tightened control of the traditional news media and further curbed the free flow of information on the Internet.
The crackdown runs counter to promises by Chinese officials to ensure "complete media freedom" at the time of the Games, the report said.