China cracking down on dissent during Olympics: activists

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by Marianne Barriaux
Mon Aug 18, 3:24 AM ET

China has cracked down on dissent for the Olympic Games and failed to honour public pledges to allow broader freedoms during the event, human rights groups and dissidents said.

China promised to improve the human rights situation in the country when it was awarded the Games in 2001 and said it would grant broad freedoms for foreign media to cover the event unhindered.

But 10 days into the event, the foreign media continues to complain about restrictions, would-be protesters have been detained, activists who disappeared before the Games have not resurfaced and dissidents have been harassed.

Nicholas Bequelin, China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it was clear the Games had been detrimental to China's overall human rights situation.

"The Games have not helped, they have actually slowed down work that was progressing and increased abuses," he said.

"The approach that Beijing chose for the preparation of the Games was to suppress any critical voices and to prevent these voices from finding an echo in the international media."

The government, which routinely bans demonstrations, set up three official protest zones in Beijing parks in a bid to display openness for the Games.

However the protests zones have been largely empty and several people who tried to demonstrate have found themselves in trouble.

Zhang Wei, a Beijing resident who has been trying to get compensation for the demolition of her house, is now serving 30 days in custody for 'disturbing public order' after applying for permission to protest, her son Mi Yu said.

"They made that annoucement for the outside world, but within the country, they repress people," Mi, 23, told AFP by phone.

The 75-year-old mother of Hai Mingyu, an entrepreneur who managed to briefly unfurl a banner in Ritan Park, one of the protest zones, was detained for six hours in Beijing on Wednesday and questioned about her son's protest.

Lawyers and activists working with dissidents have also reported increased harassment leading up to the Games in what they see as a deliberate attempt to muzzle them,

Zeng Jinyan, the wife of prominent human rights activist Hu Jia, who was jailed for more than three years in April for 'inciting subversion against the state,' went missing the day before the start of the Olympics.

"It's clear that it's because of the Olympic Games, because we lost contact just before the beginning of the Games," Hu's lawyer Li Fangping told AFP.

Li himself, a prominent human rights lawyer, said he had decided to leave Beijing at the end of July as the pressure was getting too heavy.

"I was being followed and watched, and the situation was very tense, so I decided to leave," he said.

"Before the Olympics, the police authorities visited us and talked to the dissidents, and they were prepared for their freedoms to be restricted during the Olympics. And from what we have seen so far, many people have been followed or monitored."

Since the Games opened last week, the Beijing Foreign Correspondent Club said it had recorded at least five separate incidents in which journalists had been harassed and prevented from working by police.

The authorities have also come under fire from media groups for blocking access to sensitive websites.

The International Olympic Committee has faced growing pressure over the issue of the empty protest parks and broader human rights issues as the Games have progressed.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies conceded the protest parks were not functioning properly.

"To date, what had been announced publicly doesn't appear, in reality, to be happening, and a number of questions are being asked," she said.

"The IOC is keen to see those questions answered by the relevant authorities."

But in response to hostile questioning from journalists, Davies has repeatedly insisted the IOC is happy with the overall handling of the Beijing Olympic Games.