August 7, 2008 / 12:53 AM / 12 years ago

Olympics-Forced evictions dull Games spirit for some in Beijing

BEIJING, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Not every Beijinger will be cheering the opening of the summer Olympics on Friday, despite a huge swell of patriotic fervour in almost every corner of the city and across the country.

Forced evictions to make way for many of the stunning Games venues and other beautification projects sprucing up China’s grimy capital have made life miserable for some and sapped their Olympic spirit.

“My situation is not good,” said one man, whose house was demolished in front of his eyes late last year to make way for a car park to the south of the main “Bird’s Nest” stadium.

“I don’t feel much joy for the Olympic Games,” he added, asking not to be identified. “Isn’t this supposed to be a ‘People’s Olympics’?”

Human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concern about the evictions and say Beijing is not living up to its promises that the Olympics will improve the country’s rights record.

The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions estimates that 1.5 million people were moved to make way for Olympic projects and the massive makeover Beijing has had for the Games. It has come at a price, the group says.

“The Olympic Games have been used as a justification to speed up housing rights violations that were already existing and to weaken people’s ability to fight for their human rights,” the group’s senior research officer, Deanna Fowler, told Reuters.

“People who have stood up and asked for greater compensation or asked not to be moved have faced harassment and threats.”

The government, and Games organisers, angrily dismiss the accusations.

“The fact of the matter is only about 6,000 families have been involved in the Olympic relocation programme,” said Beijing Games organiser spokesman Sun Weide recently.

“It’s very important to improve people’s living standards. As a result of the relocation programmes, the living area for Beijing residents has increased from about 20 square metres in the last century to 60 square metres at the moment.”

Rights groups say the government is being disingenuous in denying there is a problem, though.

“There’s enough evidence to suggest that many people have been forced out of their homes without proper or adequate compensation,” said Mark Allison, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Hong.

Some residents who have protested have been detained.

Ni Yulan, a 47-year-old lawyer, is awaiting trial on charges of “obstructing a public official” after resisting the demolition of her house.

She was hit with a brick and dragged to the ground during the incident, according to Human Rights Watch.

Another housing activist, Ye Guozhu, considered by Amnesty a prisoner of conscience, was supposed to have been released from jail last month after serving a term for organising protests against forced evictions related to the Games.

But instead he was taken from prison to a detention centre in another part of Beijing.

“I have not been able to see him, as all my requests have been turned down by the police,” his lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told Reuters by telephone.

“They said he did not want a lawyer, but we’ve not been able to confirm that with him.

“There’s nothing unusual about wanting to actually meet with your client,” Mo added dryly. (Editing by Nick Macfie)

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