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Rights group says China has failed to keep promises on human rights for Olympics

Rights group says China has failed to keep promises on human rights for Olympics

China has failed to live up to promises to improve human rights for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing despite death penalty reforms and increased freedoms for foreign reporters, Amnesty International said.
In a report released Monday, the group cataloged a wide range of continuing human rights abuses, including extensive use of detention-without-trial by police, persecution of civil-rights activists, and the use of new methods to rein in the domestic media and censor the Internet.
The London-based group said the referring of all death sentences to China's Supreme Court since the start of the year and new rules for foreign journalists were welcome changes.
"Disappointingly, they have been matched by moves to expand detention without trial and house arrest of activists, and by a tightening of controls over domestic media and the Internet," Catherine Baber, deputy Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said in a statement.
China's Foreign Ministry in a statement Monday rejected the report, saying the government was improving its legal system and promoting democracy.
"We are conscientiously fulfilling our promise for the Olympics. ... The progress China has achieved in human rights cannot be slandered by a report from an individual organization with political prejudice," the statement said.
The report called on the International Olympic Committee to push Beijing more to improve its human rights record, especially on issues relating to the Olympics.
"The IOC cannot want an Olympics that is tainted with human rights abuses _ whether families forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for sports arenas or growing numbers of peaceful activists held under house arrest," Baber said.
The report said if private discussions were not working, the "IOC should consider making these concerns public, especially with the Olympics little more than a year away."
Many of the ills cited by the group have been endemic for years in China, but 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 freedoms.
IOC members have said they expect Beijing to keep its word. The organization, whose top officials just returned from two weeks of meetings with the Chinese government in Beijing, said they needed more time before commenting on the Amnesty report.
Andrew J. Nathan, political science department chairman at Columbia University, said it wasn't a surprise that China hadn't lived up to its commitments since winning the bid.
"Those who have been tracking China's implementation of commitments to improve its human rights record know it hasn't been improving," said Nathan.
He said the government had made a few "cosmetic changes," including loosening restrictions on foreign media, but generally they've been "tightening rather than liberalizing" rights restrictions.
"We still have a year to go, so it is extremely important that Amnesty International join other organizations looking at this to say what they've found," Nathan said.
China tightened the rules for the application of the death penalty following a series of high-profile cases involving wrongful convictions and torture. Starting Jan. 1, lower courts were prohibited from approving executions on their own.
Amnesty International put the recorded number of executions in 2006 at more than 1,000 people. But it said the true figure is believed to be as high as 8,000.
Last December China announced new regulations for foreign journalists which temporarily abolish decades-old rules requiring foreign reporters to obtain government approval for all travel and interviews. Under the new rules, in place until mid-October 2008, only the consent of the person to be interviewed is needed.
But the change was announced at the same time a Beijing court took five minutes to reject an appeal by Zhao Yan, a New York Times researcher, of a three-year prison sentence. Zhao was convicted of fraud, but press-advocacy groups saw his case as a political vendetta for his pre-Times career as a crusading investigative reporter and as a warning to Chinese reporters.
The different signals underscore China's schizophrenic treatment of the media. The Communist government hopes the Olympics will burnish China's international image and knows positive foreign reports will help. At the same time, it has clamped down on domestic media and Internet essayists, fearing unfettered reporting would weaken the Communist Party's authority.
"The failure to ensure equal rights and freedoms for both foreign and domestic journalists smacks of double standards _ China has yet to meet its promise to ensure 'complete media freedom' for the Olympics," Baber said.