World News

U.S. says China missed rights opportunity at Olympics

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - China missed an opportunity to show progress on human rights and religious freedom during the Olympic Games, the White House said on Monday, after eight Americans were deported for protesting.

Security guards drag away a protester wearing a t-shirt with a "Free Tibet" slogan in Beijing August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Nir Elias

U.S. President George W. Bush attended the opening ceremony and several events despite pressure from U.S. lawmakers and activists who said his presence could legitimize the Chinese government’s suppression of freedom of speech and religion.

During meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing, Bush pressed them to be more accommodating to religious freedom and allow wider freedom of speech.

But that encouragement appeared to fall short, as none of the 77 applications that citizens submitted to protest legally in designated Beijing parks was approved and two elderly applicants were sentenced to one year in labour camps.

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based press freedom advocacy group, counted some 100 cases where journalists or Internet bloggers covering China outside Olympic venues were harassed, detained and, in a few cases, beaten or jailed.

As the Olympic Games closed, eight American supporters of Tibet were deported for trying to protest against the Chinese government, according to Students for a Free Tibet.

“It was maybe an opportunity missed for the Chinese to demonstrate their willingness to be more open and to allow more freedom of speech, freedom of religion, while the world was watching,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

“So I would say perhaps we’re disappointed that they didn’t take the full opportunity that was offered to them while the world was watching during these Olympics.”

Beijing has bristled at advice from Washington, saying it was unnecessary meddling in internal Chinese affairs.

Still, Fratto said the Bush administration believes it was having an impact on China’s leadership.

“We think our relationship with China has had a positive impact on freedom and human rights in China,” he said. “We would like to see more liberalization of human rights and religious freedom.”

Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by John O’Callaghan