Amnesty International called on the Chinese government yesterday to fulfill the human rights promises that its officials made when the country was awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics seven years ago.
"This is a great opportunity for China to improve its gross human rights abuses," said T. Kumar, advocacy director for Asia and Pacific of Amnesty International.
China has "a golden opportunity," he said, and he hopes officials "don"t miss it."
Amnesty released a report that identified four problems that the organization hopes China will address before the Games" opening ceremonies one year from today. The problems are restrictions on local journalists and Internet companies, a lack of transparency on the death penalty, the use of labor camps to "re-educate" some citizens and crackdowns on human rights defenders.
"If the authorities fail to take significant action to reform such practices, reports of abuses are likely to increase as the Olympics approach," the report said.
It predicted the resulting adverse publicity could affect not only China, but also the International Olympic Committee and the corporate sponsors of the Games.
"Amnesty International remains hopeful that prompt action can still be taken to create a more favorable human rights environment for the Beijing Olympics in August 2008 and beyond."
The report was released a day after six foreign journalists were briefly detained for reporting on an event in Beijing coordinated by press freedom activists, according to London"s Financial Times.
Mr. Kumar said such incidents have become common in the country, particularly regarding the treatment of local journalists. He thinks that Chinese authorities have a different set of standards for foreign and local journalists.
"Foreign journalists have freedom to cover the stories they want, while the local journalists don"t enjoy the same freedom," Mr. Kumar said. "And also local journalists have been imprisoned and abused."
Mr. Kumar said Amnesty International will issue periodic report cards on the progress of Chinese officials. The organization and other activists plan to protest Chinese rights abuses in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington this evening.
Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said in a telephone interview that his country"s government has consistently attached a great importance to the protection of human rights.
"A new progress has been made in human rights protection in recent years, and this is a universally recognized fact by anybody without any bias," Mr. Wang said. "For the time being, the Chinese government and the Chinese people are awaiting with great enthusiasm and are actively preparing for the Beijing Olympic Games.
"We certainly welcome constructive criticism from various parties on the problems in certain areas as related to the work the Chinese have done," Mr. Wang said.
"But we are against any irresponsible allegations or unfounded slandering. And we are also opposed to the practice of politicizing the Olympic Games. We are also against any attempt to exert pressure on the Chinese side by making use of the Beijing Olympic Games."