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Haze gives way to rights blot

Beijing, July 29 (Reuters): Olympic host Beijing saw hazy pollution lift today, but a damning Amnesty International report brought into sharp view tensions over China’s human rights policies ten days before the Games begin.

With the 2008 Olympic Games due to open in the shining Bird’s Nest Stadium on August 8, the human rights group on Tuesday gave a scathing assessment of China’s record, saying many of its citizens’ protections and freedoms have shrunk, not expanded, in the seven years since Beijing won the right to hold the Games.

China had not honoured vows to improve rights that officials made in lobbying for the Games, and was not living up to commitments as an Olympic host, Amnesty International stated in the report released in Hong Kong.

“There has been no progress towards fulfilling these promises, only continued deterioration,” it said in the report, titled: “The Olympics countdown — broken promises”.

“The authorities have used the Olympic Games as pretext to continue, and in some respects, intensify existing policies and practices which have led to serious and widespread violations of human rights,” it said in the report released in Hong Kong.

Amnesty said Chinese authorities had targeted human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers to “silence dissent” ahead of the Games, jailing dissidents such as prominent AIDS activist Hu Jia and often intimidating their families.

A Chinese government spokesman dismissed the Amnesty report as a product of habitual bias that ignored big improvements.

“This is a statement that anyone who knows China cannot agree with,” the Chinese foreign ministry’s chief spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference in Beijing. “I hope Amnesty International can take off the coloured glasses it has been wearing for years and look at China fairly and objectively.”

Several Chinese lawyers and activists pressing for lifting censorship, stronger judicial protections and improved treatment for AIDS patients, told Reuters the Games had brought pressure for some improvements but was making life difficult for them.

Teng Biao, a Beijing-based lawyer who has experienced detention, said China’s Olympics run-up had brought some gains in media freedom and emboldened Internet-based citizen activism.

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