China is failing to make progress ahead of the Beijing Olympics as government security forces intensify crackdowns on independent media and individual activists, says a human rights advocacy group.
"The government seems afraid that its own citizens will embarrass it by speaking out about political and social problems, but China's leaders apparently don't realize authoritarian crackdowns are even more embarrassing," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report posted online Thursday.
The HRW report criticized Beijing for a “well-documented history of serious human rights abuses, including…torture, censorship of media and internet, control on religious freedom, and repression of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang.”
In a bid for the Olympics in 2001, Beijing initially promised the International Olympic Committee that the games would improve chances for human rights, religious and media freedom in China.
Instead, China is paying more attention to ensuring political stability rather than addressing human rights concerns, says the New York-based group.
The Beijing Olympics, which begins Aug. 8, 2008, are a source of national pride to the nation of 1.3 billion, as its citizens prepare for the economic boom anticipated to follow during the games.
This is leading to problems including the forced evictions of citizens, to make way for Olympics-related construction projects, and frequent abuses to migrant workers, the human rights group says.
There has also been a "gagging of dissidents, a crackdown on activists and attempts to block independent media coverage," Adams emphasized.
Dr. Jiang Yanyong, the whistleblower who exposed the extent of the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, was denied permission to travel to the U.S. last December to receive an award in New York.
Grass-root organizations and public health advocates have been halted in their efforts to stem the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which the government continually denies is a grave concern.
More prominently, Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan, a husband-and-wife team of human rights activists, were placed under house arrest and travel restrictions since May on charges of "harming state security."
Guang Cheng, a blind self-educated lawyer who documented abuses in China’s family planning law, was convicted of an alleged attack on government attacks after his lawyers were beaten and detained by police to prevent them from going to his trial last August.
In December 2006, human rights critic Gao Zhisheng was reportedly tortured by security officials into writing a confession to charges of sedition. Gao’s wife and child were also apparently threatened and harassed by security officials.
"Political repression is not in keeping with the behavior of a responsible power and Olympic host," said Adams. "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.
China’s legal process also came under criticism in the HRW reported, which described trials as being “deeply flawed, as the accused often to no have access to adequate defense counsels.”
The rights group also mentioned that trials are “usually closed to the public” and “evidence is often obtained through torture.” According to HRW, China has the highest number of executions each year though the total number of those executed remains in secrecy.
Amongst other grievances listed in the Human Rights Watch report included China’s close relationship to “right-abusing” government.
In June, the U.S. House of Representatives urged China to stop providing aid to the ruling-regime in Sudan, which was cited for human rights violations in Darfur.
China continually aids other brutal regimes including those in Burma, Cambodia and Zimbabwe.
"The starting gun has been fired on the assessment of China's commitment to rights at home and abroad," Adams stated.
"Just as Chinese citizens will be rooting for their athletes to win medals, we are rooting for the Chinese government to move up in the league tables on rights protection."