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China tightens screws against dissidents ahead of Olympics

June 23, 2008

Thu Jun 19, 2:52 AM ET

GENEVA (AFP) - Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts to censor
dissenting voices in the run-up to the Olympic Games, a report by two
human rights groups charged Thursday.

"The context related to the run-up to the Olympic Games in August
2008 has continuously strengthened an environment already hostile to
human rights and their defenders," said the Observatory for the
Protection of Human Rights Defenders in its annual report.

The observatory is a joint project by the Geneva-based World
Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the Paris-based International
Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

It cited four people who were arrested after making protests in
relation to the Olympic Games.

Among them was Hu Jia, who was taken into custody last December 27
after publicly criticising the Chinese government's failure to keep
its promise to promote and protect human rights, a promise that was
make when it was awarded the Games.

Hu, 34, was found guilty at a Beijing court of "incitement to subvert
state power" following a one-day trial in March, and sentenced to
three-and-a-half years behind bars in early April.

In a foreword to the report, writer Wei Jingsheng wrote: "In
particular, last year the Chinese Government's repression has rapidly
upgraded, in an effort to make sure there is no dissident voices from
the people during the 2008 Olympics."

Outside China, charged Wei, some Western politicians have even tried
to stop their sportsmen from expressing their political opinions on
China during the Games.

In February, the London-based Mail on Sunday newspaper reported that
the British Olympic Association had inserted clauses into its
athletes' contracts forbidding them to comment on "politically
sensitive issues."

Other human rights repression in China had included the forced
evictions of citizens from their homes as well as censorship of the
media and Internet, said the NGO.

Press freedom in China is now among the lowest in the world, and
commentaries are tailored to meet "the propaganda standard(s) of the
Chinese Communist Party," said the report.

Meanwhile, the Beijing Olympic torch paraded through a key military
post in China's Muslim-dominated northwestern region of Xinjiang
Thursday as police patrolled for terrorist activities, the government said.

Thousands of mostly Han Chinese watched the torch pass through the
oasis town of Shihezi, one of the command centres of the Xinjiang
Production Corps, a military group that has spearheaded China's
"liberation" of the restive region.

"Shihezi is a new city reclaimed by the military and populated by,
designed by, and built by the military," Song Zhiguo, the city's top
communist official, said at the start of the relay.

"Through the Olympic torch relay, we can fully display Shihezi's
vibrant environment and the results of our military's uniquely
beautiful cultivation of this area."

Thursday's Olympic relay marked the third and final day that the
torch passed through Xinjiang, a region predominantly populated by
Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people with little resemblance to the Han Chinese.
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