China promised expanded press freedom and an improved climate for human rights and domestic freedom of expression in this Olympic year. But it has instead maintained a systematic campaign to jail or silence prominent dissident voices and is now brazenly trying to restrict domestic and international press coverage.

In making those original specific promises, China was inviting scrutiny, judgment and scorekeeping. On Dec. 10, 2007, PEN Canada joined with the Independent Chinese PEN Center and American PEN to launch a campaign asking the Chinese government to fulfill its commitments to the rule of law and the international community, to release writers and journalists currently imprisoned, and to reform laws used to imprison writers and journalists and end Internet censorship.

Seven months later, we are unable to report significant improvements in any of these areas. Last December, PEN was following the cases of 40 imprisoned writers and journalists. After additional arrests and releases, there are now 44 writers and journalists in Chinese prisons – one month before opening day in Beijing.

What the PEN campaign reveals is not only a blatant disregard for promises made, but the vast, intricate nature of this suppression of human rights – threatening visits by security forces to the mothers and wives of prisoners; interference with personal cellphones and computers; the harassment of individuals on their way to meetings. Essentially widespread surveillance, followed by detention, arrest and, in some cases, long prison sentences.

Colleagues at the Independent Chinese PEN Center, our remarkable affiliate composed of 200 leading Chinese writers inside and outside the country, have been repeatedly targeted. In December, authorities halted ICPC’s annual awards dinner by posting guards outside the doors of many writers’ homes to prevent them from travelling to Beijing. Two honorees, Liao Yiwu and Li Jianhong, were briefly placed under house arrest. On June 4, famed writer and dissident Dr. Liu Xiaobo was manhandled by police and is now reportedly under surveillance at his home in Beijing. On June 29, Teng Biao and Li Baiguang, human-rights lawyers and ICPC members living in Beijing, were detained to prevent them from meeting with two U.S. congressmen who had invited them to dinner to discuss human rights.

Furthermore, when challenged by two significant and unexpected events in the past four months – unrest in Tibet and earthquakes in the province of Sichuan – the Chinese government failed again to live up to its commitments.

During the crackdown on protests in Tibetan areas that began in March, government-instigated interruptions in telephone and Internet service in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas significantly hindered the flow of firsthand reports as violence spread and the number of deaths rose. Since March, a few journalists have been allowed into Tibetan areas on government-orchestrated visits, always chaperoned and closely monitored.

As for the May 12 earthquake, the government at first – and of necessity – allowed an unusual level of live coverage of rescue efforts, but when media attention turned to potentially embarrassing issues for Chinese officials, there was a concerted effort to rein in – and even black out – press coverage.

Three laws are routinely misused to detain and imprison writers in China: subversion, revealing state secrets and separatism. Of the 44 writers currently imprisoned in China, 30 are being held for writings they posted on the Internet or disseminated electronically, including Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning, both convicted after U.S. Internet provider Yahoo! handed over their user information to the Chinese government. Many websites have been shut down in the past six months, including a site for the Tiananmen Mothers – an organization of family members of those killed or imprisoned during the 1989 crackdown – and Uyghur Online, a site aimed at promoting understanding between Han Chinese and ethnic Uyghur.

Rather than improving, the climate for freedom of expression has deteriorated measurably in full view of the international community, even as the world prepares to send its best athletes and highest officials – and its political leaders – to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.