07/26/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Olympics: dissident lawyer beaten and arrested by police

Zheng and about a hundred expropriated property owners tried unsuccessfully to be admitted in the trial of a Shanghai property developer up on corruption charges. A year from the Olympic Games, experts and trade union activists view the human rights situation as worse.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Dissident lawyer Zheng Enchong was beaten by police then placed under house arrest to prevent him from attending a trial. For many experts China has not lived up to its pledge that the Olympics would have brought freedom and respect for human rights.

Zheng and about a hundred residents of Shanghai’s Dongbakuai neighbourhood, whose property was expropriated without adequate compensation, were turned back at the Shanghai Supreme People's Court on Tuesday when they tried to register to observe the trial of property developer Zhou Zhengyi (known in Hong Kong as Chau Ching-ngai).

Zhou is involved in a corruption scandal that erupted in Shanghai, resulting in the dismissal of Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu. He was arrested in October on corruption and tax evasion charges.

On Tuesday morning, police surrounded Zheng on his way to court, beat him in front of many passer-bys and then dragged him to his sister-in-law Jiang Zhongli’s house. Five police cars and more than 30 police officers were allegedly blocking the exits of the street, keeping the latter’s home under close surveillance

Mr Zheng was released from jail last year after serving a three-year sentence for leaking state secrets. As part of his sentence, he was deprived of his political rights until last month, which kept him under virtual house arrest.

A year from the Olympics, experts note that China has not improved its human rights situation as pledged in 2001 when it was awarded the Games. At that time the secretary general of the Beijing Olympic Bid Committee Wang Wei had said: "We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China.”

Han Dongfang, founder of the first independent Chinese trade union, said that “labour rights have become worse over the past few years.''

Just a few months ago a scandal broke out involving underpaid child labourers making Olympic gadgets for Western firms.

Veteran China scholar Willy Wo Lap Lam, said that the “police and secret police departments in every city have lists of dissidents and 'dangerous' people who are not supposed to talk to the western media.”

He explained that  “instead of following these Western reporters around, the police will simply post more 'guards' outside the dwellings of 'suspect' people in each city and county. They will ensure they can't talk or work with western journalists.”

“The main pledges made by Beijing are clearing up the environment and curbing traffic jams. Both of these are achievable through draconian methods," Lam says.

Professor Joseph Cheng of Hong Kong's City University agrees with Lam. All “the troublemakers will 'disappear'. Twenty years ago they put trouble-makers under harsh house arrest or worse. Today, they give them a holiday. Either way, they won't be speaking to foreign journalists,” he said.

“The Chinese Communist Party sees the Games as an opportunity to show the world China's great achievements in the economy and infrastructure and to demonstrate their diplomatic clout. Internally, the Games will help the Party foster 'internal cohesiveness' using national pride to justify the Party's ruling status,” he added.

In any event the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not seem very interested in the issue. The IOC's director of communications Giselle Davies told CNN that “there were some declarations made by senior Chinese leaders in Beijing who raised the human-rights question proactively and talked about how the Games would be part of the process to help human rights development. But that was never a criterion on which the IOC judged and assessed Beijing's bid.”

The IOC fundamentally believes that the world will look back and see the Games as a key moment along a period of change and development for good in China,” she said.

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