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China: Silence of the International Olympic Committee and world leaders is tacit endorsement of abuse, says Amnesty

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and world leaders, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, must speak out strongly and in public against human rights abuses in Tibet and elsewhere in China or risk giving ‘tacit endorsement’ to human rights abuses being committed in preparation for the Olympic Games, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

The report, China: The Olympics countdown – crackdown on activists threatens Olympics legacy (PDF), shows a human rights situation that is getting worse, not better, in the run-up to the Olympics. In Tibet and the surrounding areas, the police and military crackdown on demonstrators has led to serious human rights violations in recent days. In and around Beijing, the Chinese authorities have silenced and imprisoned peaceful human rights activists in the pre-Olympics ‘clean up’. Promises of ‘media freedom’ have not been honoured, with reporters denied free access to Tibet. Reports suggest that information controls are also being extended to cover SMS text messaging in Beijing.

Amnesty is calling on the Chinese authorities to immediately end repressive measures against Chinese human rights defenders in Beijing and other parts of China, as well as against protesters in Tibet and surrounding regions.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“The muzzle on protesters and activists, in Tibet and in Beijing, is getting tighter and tighter as the Olympics get closer.

“With so many internal critics silenced, responsibility lies with the international community and the Olympics movement to pressure the Chinese authorities to honour promises of human rights reform.

“Unless world leaders and the IOC speak out strongly and in public, they risk giving tacit endorsement to China’s repressive policies.

“The human rights situation is deteriorating and there are only four months until the Games. We are urging the IOC to express human rights concerns publicly, especially over the plight of individual activists in China.

“If pressure is not brought to bear soon, the legacy of the Beijing Olympics may not be human rights reforms but further abuses.”

Amnesty International’s report reveals excessive, sometimes lethal force used to disperse protesters in Tibet and surrounding areas. Amnesty recognises the authorities’ duty to protect individuals and property from acts of violence, including apparently ethnically motivated attacks on Han Chinese, but their actions must be proportionate and respect international human rights standards.

Amnesty fears that Tibetan detainees are likely to face beatings or other abuses, given the long-documented patterns of torture and other ill-treatment in Tibet. Some risk being sentenced to death after unfair trials. The organisation 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.

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. This is reminiscent of “Custody and Repatriation”, a system of detention pending repatriation for internal migrants, the abolition of which in 2003 was heralded in China as an important step forward for human rights. Some petitioners have also been assigned to ‘Re-education through labour’ – an abusive system of detention without trial which has been stalled on China’s reform agenda for many years.

Amnesty’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 their immediate and unconditional release, 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.

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.

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.

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

Read the full report - China: The Olympics countdown – crackdown on activists threatens Olympics legacy /em> (PDF)
Find out more about Amnesty's Human Rights for China campaign /p>

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