China: Olympics countdown - Time running out for improvement in human rights
“The crackdown on activists has deepened not lessened because of the Olympics,” said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
In and around Beijing, the Chinese authorities have silenced and imprisoned peaceful human rights activists in the pre-Olympics ‘clean up’. In Tibet and the surrounding areas, the police and military crackdown on demonstrators has led to serious human rights violations in recent days.
“These actions cast doubt on whether the Chinese authorities are really serious about their commitment to improve human rights in the run up to the Olympics,” said Irene Khan.
“The Olympic Games have so far failed to act as a catalyst for reform. Unless urgent steps are taken to redress the situation, a positive human rights legacy for the Beijing Olympics looks increasingly beyond reach,” said Irene Khan.
“With just four months to go, the IOC and world leaders should speak out strongly: a failure to express concern and demand change publicly risks being interpreted as a tacit endorsement of the human rights violations perpetrated by the Chinese authorities in preparation for the Olympic Games.”
Amnesty International is calling on the Chinese authorities to:
- give immediate access to Tibet and surrounding areas to UN investigators and other independent observers;
- cease arbitrary detention, intimidation and harassment of activists;
- end punitive administrative detention;
- allow full and free reporting across the whole of China for all journalists;
- free all prisoners of conscience;
- reduce the number of capital crimes as a step towards abolition.
Highlights of the report
The authorities have used excessive, sometimes lethal force to disperse protesters in Tibet and surrounding areas. Amnesty International recognizes the authorities’ duty to protect individuals and property from acts of violence, including apparently ethnically motivated attacks on Han Chinese, but their actions must follow principles of necessity and proportionality outlined in international human rights standards.
In view of long-documented patterns of torture and other ill-treatment in Tibet, Amnesty International fears that Tibetan detainees are likely to face beatings or other abuses. Some risk being sentenced to death after unfair trials. The organization calls on the authorities to disclose the names, whereabouts and legal status of all those detained, and to release anyone detained solely for peaceful protest.
The near total media black-out on Tibet and the surrounding areas has not only made it difficult to confirm reports but is a betrayal of official promises to ensure ‘complete media freedom’ in the run-up to the Olympics.
AI’s report details cases of prosecution of human rights activists for reporting on abuses or linking their human rights concerns with Beijing’s hosting of the Games. Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of peaceful activists detained solely for expressing their views, including:
- Land rights activist Yang Chunlin who was sentenced to five years in prison on 25 March, for ‘inciting subversion’ after he spearheaded a campaign under the banner “We don’t want the Olympics, we want human rights”. He was reportedly tortured by the police in detention, but denied the opportunity to raise these allegations in court.
- Beijing-based activist Hu Jia who was tried on 18 March for ‘inciting subversion’ in connection with his human rights activities, after he had already spent many months under intrusive ‘house arrest’. His wife Zeng Jinyan continues to be held under tight police surveillance at home together with their new-born baby.
The pre-Olympics ‘clean-up’ has also resulted in the detention of thousands of petitioners in Beijing with many being sent back to their home provinces. Such practices are reminiscent of “Custody and Repatriation”, a system of detention pending repatriation for internal migrants which was abolished in 2003 with great fanfare and heralded in China as an important step forward for human rights. Some petitioners have also been assigned to ‘Re-education through labour’ – another abusive system of detention without trial which has been stalled on China’s reform agenda for many years.
New regulations introduced last year aimed at increasing reporting freedom for foreign journalists in China have not been applied in Tibet and several journalists have been blocked from reporting on sensitive issues in Beijing and other parts of China. Meanwhile tight restrictions remain in place on the domestic media and censorship of the internet has been tightened with several HIV/AIDS news websites among those most recently targeted in Beijing. Reports suggest that information controls are also being extended to cover SMS text messaging in Beijing.
The report welcomes official assertions of a significant reduction in death sentences and executions last year as a result of the re-introduction of Supreme People’s Court review, but calls again on the authorities to publish full national statistics on the death penalty to back up such claims.