Amnesty slams China's broken Olympics promises

HONG KONG Mon Jul 28, 2008 5:55pm EDT

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Rights group Amnesty International slammed China for failing to honor its Olympic human rights pledges in a report summarizing Beijing's "deteriorating" record over the past seven years.

With just over a week to go before the Games kick off in Beijing's bird's nest stadium on August 8, Amnesty on Tuesday gave a scathing assessment of China's track record since 2001, when it won the right to host the 2008 Olympics amid pledges to improve its human rights performance in line with Olympic ideals.

"There has been no progress towards fulfilling these promises, only continued deterioration," said Amnesty in the report, titled "The Olympics countdown - broken promises".

"The authorities have used the Olympic Games as pretext to continue, and in some respects, intensify existing policies and practices which have led to serious and widespread violations of human rights," it said in the report released in Hong Kong.

Amnesty said Chinese authorities had targeted human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers to "silence dissent" ahead of the Games, jailing the likes of Hu Jia, Ye Guozhu and Yang Chunlin and often intimidating their families.

"China really needs to be releasing human rights activists, in order to be showing it's following through with its promises," said Mark Allison, a China researcher for Amnesty in Hong Kong.

The International Olympic Committee was also blamed for failing to put more pressure on China and for "sending a message that it is acceptable for a government to host the Olympic Games in an atmosphere characterized by repression and persecution".

The spring unrest in Tibet and subsequent crackdown was highlighted as an instance of China overstepping its bounds in persecuting people without charge, and of shutting out foreign reporters in violation of its promise to grant full media freedoms for foreign journalists in the run-up to the Games.

Sichuan's earthquake was also cited as a lost opportunity, with the initial climate of media openness later strangled off amid tightened controls as reporters probed official corruption.

Internet censorship and regulation had also been "increasingly tightened" as the Olympics approach, with journalists working in the Olympic media centre unable to access websites, including those of Amnesty and certain foreign media.

The report did note however that China had made some progress with death penalty reforms and to partially broaden the scope of foreign media coverage in China.

The report called on China to free all prisoners of conscience immediately, allow full media freedoms and to halt the "clean-up" of dissent.

"Unless the authorities make a swift change of direction, the legacy of the Beijing Olympics will not be positive for human rights in China," it said.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Paul Tait)

(For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)

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