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China Pressured to Improve Press Freedom before Olympics Begin

( [email protected] ) Aug 08, 2007 04:17 AM EDT
Beijing once again came under pressure to improve civil liberties and press freedoms – as it promised to fulfill in its winning bid to host next year’s Summer Olympics.
Chinese dancers performs during a ceremony to mark the one year countdown until the start of the 2008 Olympics at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007. Beijing once again came under pressure to improve civil liberties and press freedoms – as it promised to fulfill in its winning bid to host next year’s Summer Olympics. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Beijing once again came under pressure to improve civil liberties and press freedoms – as it promised to fulfill in its winning bid to host next year’s Summer Olympics.

As the 366-day countdown for the games begin – since 2008 is leap year – rights groups accused the nation of 1.3 billion of not violating its pledges.

In its report, Tuesday, Amnesty International denounced Chinese authorities for heightening crackdowns which included the arrests and surveillance of journalists, religious leaders and political dissidents.

Time is "running out for the Chinese government to fulfill its promise of promoting human rights as part of the Olympics legacy," said Irene Kahn, Amnesty's secretary-general, according to Reuters. "Unless the Chinese authorities take urgent measures to stop human rights violations over the coming year, they risk tarnishing the image of China and the legacy of the Beijing Olympics."

The Committee to Protect Journalist (COJ) – a group based in New York – reported on Tuesday that 29 local Chinese journalists were sitting in jail after being arrested for breaking vaguely-defined state security laws.

Generally, Chinese officials have only been known to harass domestic Chinese media outside the nation’s major cities – with some cases involving authorities beating, censoring and arresting journalists.

Only foreign reporters are allowed to freely travel and conduct interviews in China without asking for government permission from Jan.1 thru the end of the Olympics in October 2008, according to a new regulation Beijing introduced in January.

Nonetheless, in a separate incident on Monday, uniformed police officers working with unidentified men in civilian clothes detained a group of overseas reporters after the latter attended a rare press-freedom rally hosted by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

The reporters – according to COJ – were leaving in taxis when police dragged them out to record their names and ID card numbers, and detained them until Foreign Ministry officials arrived to secure their release.

Last week, New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the Chinese government failed to live up to its promises for greater human rights, instead cracking down on journalists and social activists.

The upcoming Olympics is a source of national pride for China, as the country makes feverish preparations including etiquette campaigns to drive out bad manners such as spitting, littering, reckless driving and jumping ahead in line.

An English campaign meant to prepare for the estimated 550,000 visitors will target normal citizens ranging from taxi drivers to grandmothers.

Chinese officials announced that they expect venues except for the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium to be completed by the end of year. Other government agencies made preparations ranging from tree-planting and artificially inducing rain to help clear up Beijing’s notorious air-related pollution.