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(New York) - China is failing to honor its commitment to better its human rights record ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Human Rights Watch said today upon releasing its World Report 2008. In bidding to host the Olympics, the Chinese government promised the International Olympic Committee and the international community that concrete improvements in human rights would take place in China ahead of the Games.

“The preparations for the Olympics are having an overall negative impact on human rights developments in China,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “In recent months, the government has increased censorship, cracked down on human rights defenders and put the brakes on growing social demands for better rights protection, all in the name of painting a picture of economic success and social harmony ahead of the Games.”

In what promises to be a test case for human rights and the Olympics, the police arrested the Beijing activist Hu Jia, for “incitement to subvert state power” on December 27, 2007. The arrest took place shortly after Hu had given a telephone testimony to the European Parliament about Olympics-related rights violations. To prevent domestic and international publicity of his case, police put his wife, fellow activist Zeng Jingyan, and their two-month-old baby under house arrest, and have prevented journalists from visiting them. In addition, police have denied Hu the right to be visited by a lawyer, claiming that his case involved “state secrets,” and put his lawyers under police surveillance.

“The whole world is watching China in the run-up to the Games, and heavy-handed tactics to suppress independent voices will create precisely the image Beijing does not want,” said Richardson. “China runs a serious risk of tarnishing its reputation and the legacy of the Games.”

Other Olympics-related abuses noted by Human Rights Watch include: indiscriminate campaigns to remove from Beijing various ”undesirables,” such as petitioners attempting to present grievances to the central government, unemployed migrants, mentally ill patients, and sex workers; forced evictions and closures of rural migrant schools in Beijing; a renewed campaign of internet censorship; and the tightening of control and oversight of civil society organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Human Rights Watch said that the Chinese government has also failed to deliver on its pledge to fully lift restrictions for foreign journalists ahead of the Beijing Games, despite repeated appeals by international press freedom organizations and by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, who documented dozens of incidents in 2007.

The Human Rights Watch World Report 2008 also discusses the human rights consequences of China’s increasingly active international role, assessing Beijing’s views of international organizations and intervention, and pointing to incrementally more helpful policy actions in China’s policies toward Sudan and Burma. Human Rights Watch urged China to fulfill its commitments to uphold the “responsibility to protect,” to reconsider its practice of unconditioned aid, and to place human rights at the center of its policies, particularly toward the developing world. In addition to its domestic human rights challenges, China’s international role will also be under tremendous scrutiny in the months before the Games.

“Beijing often evades questions about its rights record by stating that documented human rights violations are fabricated or that the Olympics should not be politicized,” said Richardson. “But China made explicit promises about improving human rights before the Games, so it’s perfectly legitimate to ask the Chinese government to keep its word.”

In its World Report 2008, Human Rights Watch surveys the human rights situation in more than 75 countries, including Afghanistan, Burma, Chad, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, the United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

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