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China short on promise to improve rights for '08 Games

4/30/2007

BEIJING -- China has failed to live up to promises to
improve human rights for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing despite
reforms to the death penalty system and more freedoms for foreign
reporters, Amnesty International said in a report Monday.

The report catalogs a wide range of persistent abuses, from
extensive use of detention without trial to the persecution of
civil rights activists and new methods to rein in the domestic
media and censor the Internet.

The London-based group welcomed the new rules for foreign
journalist and the referral of all death sentences to China's
Supreme Court since the start of the year.

"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.

No Chinese official was immediately available to comment on the
report. China has denounced previous Amnesty reports, saying it was
fulfilling all the commitments made in its bid for the Games
.
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.

"It's clearly comprehensive and we want to take the time to
digest it before making any further reaction," said IOC
spokeswoman Giselle Davies.

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.

Nathan, who chaired the advisory committee of New York-based
Human Rights Watch in Asia from 1995 to 2000 and continues to serve
as a member, said he believes China could still bend under pressure
if organizations and companies continue to speak up in the coming
year.

"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," he said.

China has tightened the rules over 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.

In December, China announced the temporary abolishment of
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 his three-year prison sentence. Zhao was convicted
of fraud, but press advocacy groups saw his case as a political
vendetta for Zhao's pre-Times career as a crusading, investigative
reporter and as a warning to Chinese journalists.

The different signals underscore China's conflicting 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.

The report was critical of the continued use of the
"re-education through labor" system. In place in since 1957, it
allows police to jail a crime suspect for up to four years without
a trial. Critics say it is misused to detain political or religious
activists, and violates suspects' rights.

"Fears remain that these abusive systems are being used to
detain petty criminals, vagrants, drug addicts and others in order
to 'clean up' Beijing ahead of the Olympics," the report said.

Beijing's push to build modern sporting venues and
transportation facilities and remake run-down neighborhoods has
contributed to civil rights abuses, Amnesty International said. It
cited the case of Ye Guozhu, a Beijing resident serving four years
in jail for protesting alleged forced evictions tied to Olympic
preparation.