Around the World, Activists Assemble to Press China on Rights

By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

NEW YORK, July 8 -- Marking the one-month countdown to the start of the Beijing Olympic Games, activists gathered here and in cities around the world Tuesday to call on China to ease crackdowns on dissenters and release political prisoners.

A coalition of advocates met at City Hall in Lower Manhattan to announce the launch of a 24-hour appeal for China to release prisoners -- including journalists, bloggers and artists -- before the Olympics opening ceremony on Aug. 8. "It would show goodwill toward keeping promises they made in 2001 to the International Olympic Committee that they have not yet kept," said Lucie Morillon, Washington director of Reporters Without Borders, which helped organize the appeal.

Campaigns also were launched in Melbourne, Australia; Toronto and Vancouver, Canada; Hong Kong; Berlin; and other cities.

The protesters included Chinese democracy activists who are working with Tibetan independence advocates as well as campaigners pressing China to influence its ally Sudan to stop the killings in Darfur. They were joined by advocates for journalists and artists.

The Chinese government had been counting on the Olympics to provide an international showcase for the country's economic growth and development. But the Games have also focused attention on China's poor human rights record.

Activists report that in recent months, the Chinese government has expanded its controls: Foreign reporters have had difficulty getting visas, police have briefly detained dissidents during pre-Olympic sweeps, and police have warned activists who live outside the capital against traveling to Beijing.

"There are two Chinas in China," said Yang Jianli, who spent five years in prison after he attempted to address a workers' rally. "One, the Chinese government wants to showcase to outsiders. Another, the government does not want other people to see. Since my release last year, I cannot forget the political prisoners I left behind."

Global concern has grown since Chinese security forces cracked down harshly on protesters in Tibet in March.

Some world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have said they will not attend the Games' opening ceremony. President Bush reiterated Sunday at the Group of Eight summit in Japan that he plans to attend.

"I feel so sad that most of the political leaders -- they are going to go to the opening ceremony of the Games with Chinese Communist Party leaders," said Baiqiao Tang, speaking Tuesday at City Hall in Manhattan. He said he had protested in 1989 at Beijing's Tiananmen Square and was imprisoned afterward.

Activists have called for demonstrations outside Chinese embassies during the Olympics opening, and Reporters Without Borders is staging a cyber-demonstration on its Web site.

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