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Human rights activists Yu Changwu and Wang Guilin sentenced to "re-education through labour"; Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser prohibited from traveling

(RSF/IFEX) - On 8 March 2008 there will be exactly five months left to the start of the Beijing Summer Olympics but RSF is still awaiting evidence of real progress in human rights and press freedom such as the release of large numbers of prisoners of conscience and an end to the censorship of the news media and the Internet.

"The way for the Chinese government to silence criticism of the human rights situation is not to crack down even more but to free prisoners of conscience and to put a stop to its repressive practices," Reporters Without Borders said. "The success of these games now depends on the ability of the International Olympic Committee and the international community to make the Chinese organisers realise this. For our part, we will redouble our efforts over the next five months to obtain concrete progress."

The list of measures that Reporters Without Borders wants taken before the start of the games includes the release of the hundred imprisoned journalists and Internet users, an end to the censorship of news websites and an end to jamming of international radio stations.

Repression continues in Beijing and throughout China

The activist Hu Jia is still detained in Beijing on a charge of inciting subversion of state power (see IFEX alerts of 21 February, 31, 11 and 10 January 2008 and 31 December 2007). He has become the "prisoner of the Olympic Games" as his arrest was clearly linked to the stance he was taking on the games. His wife, blogger Zeng Jinyan, and their baby daughter are still subject to constant surveillance by the Beijing police.

At least four other activists are being held for calling for more freedom before the games. Yang Chunlin, who started the "We want human rights, not the Olympic Games" campaign, has been tried in the northeastern city of Jiamusi. The verdict is not yet known but he faces a heavy prison sentence. His family has been threatened with reprisals if they talk to the international media. Yu Changwu and Wang Guilin, who were also involved in the campaign, were sentenced in January to reeducation through labor.

Wang Guilan was arrested in Beijing on 28 February after the release of an open letter about the human rights situation with more than 12,000 signatures. According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, the letter said: "The Olympic Games are supposed to be run according to civilised rules and with civilised people taking part. Since we are citizens of the organising country, we hope to enjoy human rights like any civilised nation."

Prison conditions for prisoners of conscience have not improved. The family of cyber-dissident Jin Haike, who was given a 10-year sentence in 2003 for being part of a pro-democracy web site led by Yang Zili, is very worried about his health after a belated operation to remove his appendix (see alerts of 27 February 2008, 11 December, 4 November, 23 May and 24 April 2003 and 24 May 2001). He now suffers from abdominal pains that have not been diagnosed.

Meanwhile the health of human rights lawyer and writer Yang Maodong (better known by the pseudonym of Guo Feixiong) has deteriorated in the prison in Meizhou (in Guangdong province) where he is being held. His wife, Zhang Qing, recently told Reporters Without Borders about the "physical mistreatment, including electric shocks" to which he has been subjected since his arrest a year and a half ago and the "traces of torture, five or six scars." The health of Li Hong, a writer held in Ningbo, is also very worrying (see alerts of 19 December, 26 September, 10 August and 19 June 2007, and others).

Most political prisoners are forced to work while they are being detained. Chen Shuqing, a writer serving a four-year sentence in Qiaosi prison, is being forced to work 10 hours a day.

And, the Chinese government refused to let Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser travel in March to Oslo to receive a Prize, because she could "put the nation in danger."

International support

Well-known European figures from the world of sport and entertainment, including French soccer star Vikash Dhorasoo, round-the-world sailor Isabelle Autissier, and actresses Carole Bouquet and Emmanuelle Béart, have taken part in the Reporters Without Borders campaign by posing for photographs in the Beijing 2008 handcuffs T-shirt.

Other athletes have voiced their disquiet about the human rights situation in China. Dutch Olympic swimmer Peter van den Hoogenband has urged IOC president Jacques Rogge to publicly address the issue of human rights in China so that it does not eclipse the athletic events.

European and US parliamentarians have condemned the increase in repression by the Chinese authorities as the games approach, mentioning Hu Jia's arrest.

In France, the ministers for human rights and sports, Rama Yade and Bernard Laporte, wrote in a joint opinion piece for "Le Figaro" that: "The Olympic Games offer a unique chance, a springboard for helping the rule of law and basic freedoms to take deeper hold in China."

Finally, Reporters Without Borders will launch the first Online Free Expression Day under UNESCO's patronage on 12 March, when Internet users will be able to participate in a "24-hour online demo against Internet censorship" and protest against online free speech violations in China.

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