By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 30, 2007; Page A10
BEIJING, April 30 — The 2008 Olympic Games have become a catalyst for more repression in China, not less, according to an Amnesty International report released today and aimed at pressuring the Beijing government a year before the start of the world’s premier sporting event.
The 22-page report says China’s illegal detention and imprisonment of activists and other measures have overshadowed some modest reforms, including how the Chinese legal system reviews death penalty cases and the loosening of some restrictions on the foreign press. The report marks the latest effort by human rights organizations and individuals to try to use the Olympics, and the international spotlight they place on China, to push for broader reforms.
To win its first-ever Olympics bid, China promised in 2001 to improve human rights, increase environmental protections and address the city’s traffic problems. The Games are expected to attract 500,000 visitors, including thousands of journalists, giving China a chance to showcase itself before a huge international audience.
In recent weeks, however, various groups have begun arguing that China has not done enough.
Last Wednesday, four American tourists were detained after unfurling a banner at a base camp on Mount Everest that read, “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008,” a play on the Beijing Olympics motto.
On the same day, French presidential candidate Segolene Royal said that if elected president, she would not rule out a boycott of the Olympics unless China used its influence with the government of Sudan to stop ongoing atrocities in the Darfur region. “All means must be used,” she said. China, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, has major oil investments in Sudan.
Concern over Darfur also prompted actress Mia Farrow recently to pressure director Steven Spielberg, an artistic adviser on the opening ceremony of the Games.
“Does Mr. Spielberg really want to go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games?” Farrow asked in a commentary last month in the Wall Street Journal, referring to the German director who presented the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a triumph for Adolf Hitler. Spielberg promptly wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao, urging China to use its influence to stop the genocide in Sudan.
Furious Chinese officials have accused critics of trying to politicize the Games.
“We believe that it’s against the goodwill of the people from all over the world to boycott or oppose Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics with any excuse or political reasons,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, who promised that China would host a distinguished Olympics “with its unique characteristics.”
Amnesty International and others said the Olympics provide a rare opportunity to effect change in this image-conscious nation.
“It’s only about a year to go and we don’t see any genuine effort by the Chinese administration to improve human rights,” said T. Kumar, advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific for Amnesty International. “The efforts they’re taking are stopgap — the public statement about extra review for the death penalty, the additional movement for international journalists. It’s just enough to keep the criticism at bay.”
Kumar added: “If we don’t make any structural improvements before the Olympics, it could be worse afterwards. No one is going to pay attention once the glamour and attention and the Olympics are gone.”
Chinese authorities have been using the Olympics to round up those they consider potential troublemakers, including human rights defenders, housing activists, lawyers and people attempting to report on human rights violations, the Amnesty report said.
Referring to the warnings of public security officials that they might force drug users into year-long rehabilitation programs, the Amnesty report said, “Fears remain that these abusive systems are being used to detain petty criminals, vagrants, drug addicts and others in order to ‘clean-up’ Beijing ahead of the Olympics.”
The report welcomed one official reform — the restoration of Supreme Court review of death penalty cases. But Amnesty said it worried that a “limited paper review” would not expose human rights violations such as police use of torture to obtain confessions.
Amnesty also took the International Olympic Committee to task for not living up to its stated commitment to act if it did not see progress on security, logistics or human rights.
Hein Verbruggen, chief of the IOC’s coordination commission for the Beijing Games, sidestepped questions last week about calls for a boycott of the Olympics. “We are not in a position that we can give instructions to governments as to how they ought to behave,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday.
While the IOC said it wanted to avoid political issues, China’s announcement that the Olympic torch relay would enter Tibet and Taiwan showed how difficult that would be.
Beijing Olympics officials included self-governed Taiwan as a “China leg” stopover along the torch relay’s 130-day, 85,000-mile route, which is being billed as a “journey of harmony.” But the chairman of Taiwan’s Olympic Committee responded that the route was “an attempt to downgrade our sovereignty” and that the island would not participate in the relay. “We resolutely reject this,” the Taiwan committee said in a statement.
Presiding over Thursday evening’s Olympic torch ceremony was China’s top security chief, Luo Gan, 71, who has been a vocal proponent of cracking down on “discordant elements” and others perceived to threaten China’s stability.