Olympic torch must throw light on human rights in China, says Amnesty

As the Olympic torch relay arrives in London, Amnesty International is urging participants and spectators alike to find out what is really happening in China and join its campaign to improve human rights for people in China.

Earlier this week Amnesty issued a new report showing a human rights situation that is getting worse, not better, in the run-up to the Olympics. The organisation called on Gordon Brown and other world leaders to speak out publicly about human rights in China and urged the International Olympics Committee to put pressure on the Chinese authorities to make urgent reforms.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“We hope the Olympic torch will throw some light on human rights in China and expose what is happening right now to people from Beijing to Tibet.

“Anyone watching the torch relay or the Games themselves should get online and find out more about China: and that means its appalling human rights record as well as its amazing economic, social and cultural achievements. We hope they’ll be moved to join our campaign to bring human rights to China.

“The Chinese authorities promised that hosting the Games would improve human rights. But what we have seen is a growing clampdown on activists, lawyers, journalists and protesters – a slow strangulation of dissent ahead of the Olympics.

“We want the Games to leave a positive legacy for human rights in China. This is still possible but time is running out.”

Amnesty activists will be attending the torch relay, bearing “Human Rights for China” placards.

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 where 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 International’s report reveals excessive, sometimes lethal force used to disperse protesters in Tibet and surrounding areas. The organisation 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. Amnesty 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. 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.

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 report

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