Un-Olympian Effort

Sunday, February 10, 2008

JOURNALISTS ACROSS Hong Kong and Guangzhou are celebrating. Ching Cheong and Yu Huafeng, their local heroes, were at last released in the past few days after years in prison on trumped-up charges. China was right to release these two, but officials have much further to go before fulfilling the human rights commitments they made upon being awarded the 2008 Olympics.

Both men were freed around the Chinese New Year, a holiday akin to Christmas in the West, when everyone takes off from work and families get together for big, traditional meals. The reason for their early releases -- years before their sentences were originally scheduled to end -- is unclear. Family and supporters had been heavily lobbying for their freedom, particularly around holidays when they thought the government might be more amenable. The concession seems to have been intended to cultivate some goodwill among critics in Hong Kong and southern China -- in particular, the many journalists who had taken up these men's causes. Hong Kong journalists enjoy more media freedoms than their mainland counterparts, and Mr. Yu's mainland paper has a reputation for defying state censors.

Unfortunately, any goodwill gleaned from the release of these men is canceled out by Beijing's inhumane treatment of many other dissidents in recent weeks. Within 24 hours of Mr. Ching's arrival home in Hong Kong, another brave journalist and outspoken critic of government corruption was sentenced to four years in prison for subverting the state. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Lu Gengsong joins at least 25 other journalists who remain behind bars for lawfully doing their jobs, as well as countless other human rights activists who have been arrested on bogus charges.

The best way China can build up goodwill -- and honor the promises it made before the Olympics -- would be to release all these political prisoners. If the Communist regime won't do that to build goodwill, perhaps they will do so to avoid embarrassment. We urge President Bush and other world leaders to demand the release of dissidents as a condition of their attendance in Beijing in August.


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