Beijing (AsiaNews/HRW) – One year from the Beijing Olympics Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports no progress on human rights in China; instead, censorship on media and the internet is tighter, rights activists are in prison, repression of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xingjian continues, priests are in jail, workers and migrants continue to be abused, and police keep on using force to break up peaceful protests.
In Beijing yesterday activists from Reporters Without Borders were held in police custody for hours after a press conference on the Games in which they said that the promised freedom of the press did not exist, that media censorship was up, that foreign journalists are forced to permission to leave their home base (in Beijing and Shanghai) and may be able to move with greater freedom only from August to October 2008.
The activists were kept for hours in a parking lot, their papers held by police, and then released without any explanation.
“Instead of a pre-Olympic ‘Beijing spring’ of greater freedom and tolerance of dissent, we are seeing the gagging of dissidents, a crackdown on activists, and attempts to block independent media coverage,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
When the International Olympics Committee elected Beijing as the host city for the 29th Olympic Games, it said that this would leave a “unique legacy to China and to sports.” However, many wonder what legacy will it be—an event for the population or a showcase for the elites?
HRW said that many gross human rights violations were in fact caused by the Olympics.
Forced evictions and school closures are among the legacy. Constructing ultra-modern facilities for the Games has involved forced evictions of thousands of residents in and around Beijing, often without adequate compensation or access to new housing. Entire neighbourhoods were ripped apart. The pre-Olympic “clean-up” of Beijing has resulted in the closure of dozens of officially unregistered schools for the children of migrant workers.
Labour rights were abused. Thousands of migrant workers employed on Olympic and other construction sites across Beijing have not and still do not receive legally mandated pay and benefits, including labour insurance and days off, and are too often compelled to do dangerous work without adequate safeguards.
Ethnic minorities have had to endure greater repression. Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet and Uighurs in Xingjian are still threatened by Chinese policies, including the immigration of ethnic Chinese into their provinces to occupy positions of power in government and commerce.
In Xingjian Muslim Uighurs are routinely accused of terrorism and sentenced to quick, secret and summary trials. The death penalty is common.
In Tibet Tibetan Buddhist are suspected of being “separatists” and are routinely imprisoned.
Religion and believers are also victims of state repression. China does not recognise freedom of religion outside the state-controlled system in which all congregations, mosques, temples, churches and monasteries must register. Dissidents end up in jail for periods of “re-education.”
As for the death penalty the government does not publicise figures, but it is mandated for no fewer than 68 crimes, many crimes of opinion. Often people on trial are not provided with proper legal representation, and trials are held in camera with sentences based on “confessions” extracted under torture.
Human rights activists are persecuted. Threats, jail time and illegal house arrests are frequent for anyone who dares to criticise the government. More importantly, HRW is concerned that the Olympic Games might give the government an excuse to carry out “preventive arrests” weeks if not months before the event.
China’s close relations with countries linked to severe, ongoing human rights violations are also a serious source of concern. China maintains relations with and provides aid to regimes including Sudan, the site of egregious human rights violations in Darfur, and Myanmar, whose military junta violently suppresses civilians.
“The Chinese government shouldn’t waste this unique opportunity to use the 2008 Games to demonstrate to the world it is serious about improving the rights situation in China,” HRW’s Adams said.
Amnesty International has also released a report slamming the ongoing persecution of media and rights activists and violation of human rights. The “police are using the pretext of the Olympics to extend the use of detention without trial,” it said.
In response to Amnesty’s criticism the Beijing Organising Committee Vice President Jiang Xiaoyu said that the organisers “absolutely oppose the politicisation of the Olympics, because this does not accord with the Olympic spirit."