British olympic association must not stand silent as China targets critics ahead of Beijing games, says Amnesty

As the British Olympic Association (BOA) prepares to host its AGM, the 2008 National Olympic Assembly, tomorrow (12 March), Amnesty International called on the BOA not to stand silent as China cracks down on dissent ahead of the Olympics.

The call comes as Teng Biao - a lawyer, academic and human rights activist - went missing last week after eyewitnesses saw him being bundled into a vehicle. He was released nearly two days later after being warned by police that he would be detained unless he stopped talking to foreign media and writing about human rights abuses. In a separate case, on 7 March human rights lawyer Li Heping’s car was rammed by a police car while he was driving his son to school in Beijing.

Amnesty is asking the BOA for a meeting to discuss constructively how the BOA and International Olympic Committee (IOC) can hold China to its promises to improve human rights in the run up to the Games – promises that were instrumental in the decision to award the 2008 Games to Beijing.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The crackdown on human rights activists in China – and the Olympic Movement’s unwillingness to condemn them – not only raises the question of whether China can live up to the Olympic values, but also whether those who have refused to speak out truly adhere to them.

“The BOA has the chance to change all that. It should not only voice the concerns held by every decent individual, but also use its influence to safeguard the positive legacy of the Beijing Olympics by pressing for improvements in the human rights situation in China before the Games begin.

“It is difficult and dangerous for people in China to speak out about human rights but they continue to do so. Olympic organisations based in London or Lausanne can speak out in complete safety, yet at the moment the silence coming from the BOA and the IOC is deafening.

“We have got to ensure that the Olympics leaves a positive legacy for human rights in China. This is only going to happen if the Chinese authorities are put under pressure to make reforms in the coming months.”

Amnesty International members are writing to the BOA, asking that it use its influence within the Olympic movement to press China to make reforms ahead of the Olympics. While the primary responsibility for human rights reforms clearly lies with the Chinese authorities themselves, the BOA has considerable sway within the Olympics Movement, which has influence with the Chinese authorities. In the run-up to the Olympics it is in the interests of both China and the Olympics Movement that the Games are not tarnished by ongoing reports of serious human rights abuses.

Last month Amnesty welcomed a statement from the BOA that it would look again at the wording of contracts which appeared to restrict the freedom of speech of British athletes competing at the Games. Amnesty now wants to engage positively with the BOA to help ensure that British athletes’ rights are respected and that the Beijing Olympics are in tune with the principles of Olympism.

Kate Allen said:

“Amnesty isn’t calling for a boycott of the Games but we think everyone should find out what’s really happening in China and do their bit to make things better. It’s up to each individual to decide what they think and what they say about China’s human rights record, and this goes for athletes too.

“The BOA took a step in the right direction by agreeing to remove the gagging clause on their athletes and they should not be afraid to hear our concerns for domestic human rights reforms in China.

“It’s disappointing that the BOA has failed so far to respond to Amnesty’s request for a meeting, but we are still very keen to engage with them.”

Amnesty is calling for reform in four areas. The lack of fair trials remains a fundamental issue, with thousands of people locked up in ‘Re-education Through Labour’ camps without any trial. Thousands each year are sentenced to the death penalty, even for non-violent crimes, with estimates that 22 people are executed every day. Free speech is severely curtailed, with around 30 journalists behind bars and Internet users denied information and jailed for their blogs. And anyone who stands up for human rights in China is a target of persecution – as the cases of Teng Biao and Li Heping graphically illustrate.

Kate Allen added:

“China promised to improve human rights when it bid for the Olympics. Those promises haven’t been honoured.

“Amnesty isn’t here to rain on the Olympic parade but let’s not forget the realities for people in China. Basic human rights like fair trials and free speech are routinely denied and estimates are that 8,000 people are executed every year.”

“It would be a terrible waste not to raise these issues but to remain silent and allow this historic event to pass by without securing a positive human rights legacy for the Chinese people.”

Amnesty is urging people to find out more about human rights in China while they’re enjoying the Olympics, at www.amnesty.org.uk/china

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