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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

China rights questioned weeks before Olympics

June 20, 2008

The Washington Times/Reuters
June 19, 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- China promised to make improvements to human
rights ahead of the Olympic Games but its record may have actually
deteriorated in the run-up to the events in August, a human rights
activist and writer says.

In its bid to host the 2008 Olympics, China promised such
improvements as greater press freedoms but author Minky Worden says
the opposite has been true.

"Right now, the evidence is that the Olympics are causing the human
rights climate to deteriorate, not improve," Worden, media director
of Human Rights Watch and editor of a book on the topic, told Reuters
in an interview.

The book -- "China's Great Leap: the Beijing Games and Olympian Human
Rights Challenges" -- addresses issues such as law enforcement and
corruption, the imprisonment of activists and reporting restrictions.

As examples, she cited the imprisonment of activists who protested
against forced evictions ahead of the games and criticized China's
healthcare system in the context of the Olympics.

Human Rights Watch has asked world leaders to use their invitations
to the high-profile opening ceremony as leverage to push China for
reforms. It has also put pressure on sponsors such as Coca-Cola to
use their influence to demand the release of prisoners or assured
media freedom.

But Worden said sponsors had not taken this opportunity and she
expressed disappointment at U.S. President George W. Bush's comment
that he would attend as a sports fan.

The games offer China a chance to promote reform and let the country
show how it has changed since the bloody 1989 Tiananmen Square
massacre, Worden said.

But for that to become a reality, much must happen before the August
8 opening ceremony, Worden said, adding that the International
Olympic Committee should put pressure China to live up to its promises.

"The IOC has a responsibility since the pledges of human rights
improvement were (made) to the IOC," she said.

Worden welcomed China's official lifting of press restrictions in
January 2007, with changes such as allowing reporters to conduct
interviews without government permission. But Beijing appeared to
tighten controls after anti-China protests in Tibet in March.

"The changes to the law were initially very welcome but, with the
Tibet protests, large sections of the country have been closed off to
reporters," Worden said.

She said there was a "real concern" that reporters who have covered
past Olympics had still not received visas to allow them to enter
China to cover the games.

According to Worden, the major test of the success of the Olympics
would be how China handles protests, which are almost certain around
the time of the games.

"The worst-case scenario would be an overreaction to the entirely
predictable protests that will happen and a crackdown on reporters
trying to do their jobs," she said.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by John O'Callaghan)
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