China Silences Critics as Olympics Near, Report Says
One month before the Aug. 8 start of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, PEN, an international writers’ group that monitors human rights abuses, accused the Chinese government of waging a “grinding and relentless campaign to jail or silence prominent dissident voices.”
In a report released jointly today by three branches of PEN, the organization attacked China for reneging on promises to improve its human rights record.
“In June we wrote to President Bush and Secretary of State Rice,” Larry Siems, director of the PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write and International Programs, said in an interview. “We told them that, while three of the 40 dissident Chinese writers we had been watching had been released from prison since last December, nine more have been detained.”
During the intense competition to win the right to host the games, the People’s Republic of China vowed to reverse its record of suppressing government critics through harassment and imprisonment. Over the past several months, though, human rights abuses, including crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tibet, have received increased coverage in the mainstream press and on the Internet.
Officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington and the consulate office in New York didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
‘Repression Rapidly Upgraded’
PEN’s assessment of human rights in China during the run-up to the Olympics, called “Failing to Deliver: An Olympic-Year Report Card on Free Expression in China,” was issued by the PEN American Center, PEN Canada and the Independent Chinese PEN Center.
In addition, the annual report of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint effort of human rights groups based in Paris and Geneva, quotes Chinese writer Wei Jingsheng, who claims that “the Chinese Government’s repression has rapidly upgraded, in an effort to make sure there are no dissident voices from the people during the 2008 Olympics.”
The Observatory report was released on June 18.
The PEN report cites several arrests of writers in recent months. Notable among them are Zeng Hongling, arrested June 9 after publishing articles about the May 12 earthquake in China, and Huang Qi, a dissident Internet journalist and founder of the Tianwang Human Rights Center, who was arrested on June 10.
PEN said in the report that “there is also increasing evidence of an organized effort to restrict movement of dissidents and writers to keep them from meeting freely with international observers before and during the Olympics.”
Siems and his counterparts at the other PEN branches insist it’s not too late for China to make amends by releasing all dissident writers.