The United States is concerned about two prominent Chinese human rights activists who went missing just before and during the Beijing Olympics, an embassy spokeswoman said Friday.
In a meeting this week with Foreign Ministry officials, U.S. Ambassador Clark T. Randt brought up the cases of Hua Huiqi, a leader in Beijing's underground church, and Zeng Jinyan, a blogger and wife of AIDS activist Hu Jia, said Susan Stevenson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Human rights groups say Zeng disappeared from her home a day before the Aug. 8 start of the games. Three days later, Hua was taken by security agents while on his way to a church service attended by U.S. President George W. Bush, relatives said. Bush was in Beijing for the Olympics' opening ceremony.
"We encourage the government of China to demonstrate respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, of all people during the Olympic Games," Stevenson said. She declined to go into specifics about the meeting.
While it is not uncommon for Washington to raise specific cases and press for the release of prisoners of concern, Randt's meeting indicated a continued push for greater freedom of religion and speech in China. Bush brought up the issue with Beijing's Communist leadership during his Olympics visit.
Critics say China has failed to live up to its promise to improve its human rights record _ a key factor in its successful bid to host the games.
Rights groups say China intensified its crackdown on activists in the run-up to the games, taking them from their homes or sending them to labor camps in an apparent attempt to subdue dissenting voices and present an image of harmony and stability to the outside world.
While Olympics organizers promised to set aside three protest zones in the city during the competition, no demonstrations went ahead. Authorities said all of the 77 applications for permits to protest were either withdrawn or rejected.
Petitioners said police made the process difficult. Plainclothes officers outside the permit office took photos and filmed people who tried to apply, a tactic often used to intimidate Chinese.