(New York) - The decision by the film director Steven Spielberg to step down as artistic consultant to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games should prompt other influential outsiders to press China to reform, Human Rights Watch said today. Corporate sponsors, governments and National Olympic Committees should urge Beijing to improve human rights conditions in China, Human Rights Watch said.

“Olympic corporate sponsors are putting their reputations at risk unless they work to convince the Chinese government to uphold the human rights pledges it made to bring the Games to Beijing,” said Minky Worden, media director at Human Rights Watch. “Human rights are under attack in China, and Olympic sponsors should use their considerable leverage to persuade Beijing to change policy.”

Spielberg, who decided that the Chinese government had not been sufficiently active in resolving the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region, said, “With this in mind, I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual.”

Human Rights Watch has urged that sponsors not only press China’s government to end its support of governments such as Sudan and Burma that commit massive abuses but also that they encourage Beijing to improve deplorable human rights conditions in China itself.

Six months before the Games launch in August 2008, Human Rights Watch has documented a systematic crackdown on dissent, with the government jailing or placing under house arrest critics of the government and their family members under spurious charges of “subversion” to silence them. Abuses of journalists continue and there is heightened internet censorship despite China’s Olympics pledge to respect press freedom. Human Rights Watch has documented a host of serious violations linked to the preparation of the Games, including forced evictions, land seizures, suppression of petitioners and closure of schools for migrant children.

“Repression in China is on the rise, and Olympic sponsors, governments, or world leaders – especially those planning to attend the Games – can’t pretend otherwise,” said Worden. “These influential players should be prepared to show the steps they are taking to address the worsening rights climate in China, or they risk being tarnished by a human rights debacle.”