The Beijing Olympics are less than a year away. While China’s extensive construction program is well under way, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is retrogressing on its promise to the International Olympic Committee to improve human rights.
A Beijing television reporter recently was sentenced to one year in prison for allegedly fabricating a story that Chinese dumpling makers used cardboard as filler. The PRC declared that it was targeting “false news reports, unauthorized publications, and bogus journalists.”
Yet the report may have been true — government officials and the police discouraged any other journalists from investigating the charge. This campaign was thought to be an attempt to discourage aggressive reporting in advance of the Communist Party congress, which convened in mid-October.
But the Chinese government is most concerned about potential protests during the Olympics. In August a group of Chinese intellectuals wrote an open letter to the Communist Party requesting that it honor its commitment to respect human rights: repression “violates the Olympic spirit,” they argued.
Western human rights advocates have promised to use the international contest to highlight abuses by Beijing. John MacAloon, an Olympic historian at the University of Chicago, predicts that “All of these voices are going to become stronger and stronger; not weaker and weaker, as the Games approach.” Thus, the PRC authorities must attempt to preserve enough national openness to highlight the country’s economic success while limiting media access enough to prevent critics from highlighting the government’s human rights failure.
Beijing shows increasing confidence in its dealings with the world. At home, however, the Chinese leadership evidently fears its own people.p> AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL RECENTLY PUBLISHED a report on the status of human rights in China, and the overall news is disappointing. Reports AI: “with just one year to go before the Olympics take place in Beijing, many in China and abroad are beginning to look ahead to assess the likely legacy of the Games for human rights in China.” Unfortunately — but not surprisingly- -the communist government has failed to live up to its promise to improve. Concluded Amnesty: br> /p>
While positive steps have been made in some limited areas, namely reform of the death penalty system and greater reporting freedom for foreign journalists in China, Amnesty International remains concerned that these are overshadowed by other negative developments — in particular the growing crackdown on Chinese human rights activists and journalists as well as the continued use of “Re-education through Labour” (RTL) and other forms of detention without trial. Official statements suggest that the Olympics are being used to justify such repression in the name of “harmony” or “social stability” rather than acting as a catalyst for reform.br> Repression is on the rise. Earlier this year Human Rights Watch reported that the Chinese government was engaging in its “largest ‘clean-up’ of protestors and rights activists in years.” Explained HRW, “China’s annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing has been marred by increasingly violent crackdowns on protesters, petitioners and rights activists across the country and a surge in house arrests of activists.” Beijing employs violent thugs as well as police to break up demonstrations.
Moreover, notes Amnesty, “the authorities have used the Olympic Games as a pretext to extend the use of two forms of detention without trial: ‘Re-education through Labour’ and ‘Enforced Drug Rehabilitation.’” These tactics have been used against those accused of petty crimes and drug offenses. AI points out that “unchecked police power to impose detention as a punishment without charge, trial or judicial review, is in flagrant violation of international fair trial standards.”.
Even good news often is twinned with bad. For instance, there has been some improvement of “the freedom of foreign journalists to cover news stories in China in the run-up to and during the Olympics,” says Amnesty. In theory, foreign reporters now will be able to report without interference. Nevertheless, 40 percent of members of the Foreign Correspondents Club of China report government intimidation, while their Chinese employees are routinely spied upon and harassed.
Moreover, these new “regulations were introduced against a background of increased official controls over the distribution of foreign news within China and a renewed crackdown on domestic journalism, including print, broadcast and online media,” warns AI.
THE BEIJING GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCED in mid-August that it was cracking down on “false news reports, unauthorized publications and bogus journalists.” Nominally directed against inaccurate reporting, these measures discourage aggressive reporting of any sort, especially regarding anything embarrassing to the government.
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