Chinese authorities’ broken promises threaten Olympic legacy

The Beijing National Stadium

The Beijing National Stadium

© Tee Meng


28 July 2008

The Chinese authorities have broken their promise to improve the country’s human rights situation and betrayed the core values of the Olympics, according to a new Amnesty International report.

Published to mark the 10-day countdown to the Games, the report evaluates the performance of the Chinese authorities in four areas related to the core Olympic values of ’universal fundamental ethical principles’ and ‘human dignity’: these include persecution of human rights activists, detention without trial, censorship and the death penalty.

The Olympics Countdown: Broken Promises concludes that in most of these areas human rights have continued to deteriorate since the previous Amnesty International report The Olympics Countdown: Crackdown on Activists Threatens Olympic Legacy, which was published in April this year.

In the run-up to the Olympics, the Chinese authorities have locked up, put under house arrest and forcibly removed individuals they believe may threaten the image of “stability” and “harmony” they want to present to the world.

“By continuing to persecute and punish those who speak out for human rights, the Chinese authorities have lost sight of the promises they made when they were granted the Games seven years ago,” said Roseann Rife, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“The Chinese authorities are tarnishing the legacy of the Games. They must release all imprisoned peaceful activists, allow foreign and national journalists to report freely and make further progress towards the elimination of the death penalty.”

Reports have just confirmed that foreign journalists working from the Olympics press centre in Beijing are unable to access amnesty.org, the Amnesty International website. In addition, The China Debate, a site recently launched by Amnesty International as a forum to discuss human rights has been blocked in China.

A number of other websites are also reported to have been blocked, including Taiwan newspaper Liberty Times and the Chinese versions of both Germany's Deutsche Welle and the BBC.

This flies in the face of official promises to ensure “complete media freedom” for the Games. Internet control and censorship is increasing as the Olympics approach. Many other sites, including several reporting on HIV/AIDS issues in Beijing, have been targeted.

Despite new media regulations that were supposed to allow for freer reporting for foreign journalists, they continue to be prevented from covering “sensitive issues”, including talking to those who suffer human rights violations. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) documented approximately 180 incidents of reporting disruptions in 2007. This has now increased to 260.

Amnesty International also believes that local activists and journalists working on human rights issues in China are at particular risk of abuse during the Games. Chinese journalists operate in a climate of censorship, unable to report on issues deemed sensitive by the authorities, and many still languish in jail for reporting on such issues.

Housing rights activist Ye Guozhu continues to serve his four-year sentence for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” because of his opposition to the seizure and demolition of property to make way for new construction projects for next month’s Olympic Games.

Ye Guozhu’s prison sentence was due to expire on 26 July. Instead the Chinese authorities say, he will remain imprisoned until at least 1 October, after the end of the 2008 Olympic Games.

China is still the world’s top executioner. The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) initiated a review of the death penalty that is believed to have resulted in a significant drop in executions. A senior official said that in the first half of 2008 15 per cent of death sentences were rejected by the SPC.

However, the authorities continue to refuse to disclose the full number of those sentenced to death and executed -- the total figure remains a state secret. Estimates put the number of those executed every year in the thousands. Around 68 offences – including non-violent crimes such as drug-related offences – are punishable by death in China.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, Jacques Rogge, recently claimed the IOC’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ had led to several human rights reforms, including the new regulations for foreign media.

“We welcome the IOC’s recognition of its role on human rights, but given the current reality, we are surprised at their confidence that foreign media will be able to report freely and that there will be no internet censorship,” said Roseann Rife. “And they must speak out when the authorities violate the wider Olympic principles.”

“Additionally, world leaders who attend the Games need to raise their voice publicly for human rights in China and in support of individual Chinese human rights activists. A failure to do so will send the message that it is acceptable for a government to host the Olympic Games in an atmosphere of repression and persecution.

Have your say on human rights issues in China on Amnesty International's The China Debate website.

People’s Republic of China: The Olympics countdown – broken promises

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Index Number: ASA 17/089/2008
Date Published: 29 July 2008
Categories: China

With the Olympics less than two weeks away, it is time to assess progress made by the Chinese authorities to improve human rights in line with their own commitments made in 2001. This report provides a final summary and updates developments in these four key areas which are: the continuing use of the death penalty; abusive forms of administrative detention; the arbitrary detention, imprisonment, ill-treatment and harassment of human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers; and the censorship of the internet.


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China: The Olympics countdown – broken promises: Update

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Index Number: ASA 17/090/2008
Date Published: 29 July 2008
Categories: China

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