U.S. embassy disappointed Olympics didn't open China more

Monday, August 25, 2008

BEIJING -- The United States said Sunday it was disappointed the Olympics had not brought more "openness and tolerance" in China as the games ended and eight American activists were deported during closing ceremonies.

The blunt U.S. criticism -- and China's harsher treatment of foreign activists -- came at the end of 17 days of Olympic competition that generally went smoothly for Chinese organizers who had been nervous about security and protests.

Protestors, press limited

No rallies were held throughout the entire Olympics in three parks designated as protest zones after Chinese officials declined to issue permits to 77 applicants and detained some of them. Some foreign activists staged a series of small illegal demonstrations near Olympic venues and at Beijing landmarks.

The foreigners, for the most part, unveiled "Free Tibet" banners before being seized by security officials, hustled into cars and taken away to be put on flights out of China.

A handful journalists trying to cover the protests were roughed up by authorities then released. There were also tensions with the media over China restricting access to the Internet.

Beijing had promised the media freedom to report the games and announced the protest parks as part of efforts to address criticism that China should not have been awarded the games because of its human rights record and tight controls on internal dissent.

U.S. response

The White House said in a statement that eight individuals -- James Powderly, Brian Conley, Jeffrey Rae, Jeff Goldin, Michael Liss, Tom Grant, Jeremy Wells and John Watterberg -- were deported by Chinese authorities at 9 p.m. Sunday Beijing time on a China Air flight to Los Angeles.

Ambassador Clark T. Randt Jr. had pressed the Chinese government Saturday to immediately release the eight.

"We encourage the government of China to demonstrate respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, of all people during the Olympic Games and beyond," a U.S. Embassy statement said Sunday.

"We are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness," it said.

Situation "unusual"

In his wrap-up news conference Sunday, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said the games had helped to open up China. But he expressed surprise that no permission had been granted for any protests.

Rogge said the IOC "found it unusual" that none of applications lodged to hold protests during the games succeeded.

He said IOC officials discussed with games organizers the case of two elderly Chinese women who were ordered to spend a year in a labor camp after applying to protest, though the women were still at home under surveillance. The IOC was told it was a matter of Chinese law.

"The International Olympic Committee is not a sovereign organization," Rogge said. "We have to respect Chinese law."

Several members of another group that sought permission to protest during the games were detained in a room for 48 hours by Chinese authorities before being deported to Hong Kong, group spokesman Xiao Yuzhen said. The group represents businessmen in Hong Kong who wanted to complain about corruption.

Separately, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders group said AIDS activist Wang Xiaoqiao, who has been detained for nine months, has been convicted and sentenced to one year in prison in Xincai county. The organization accused the government of waiting until the Olympics, when the world was distracted by the games, to sentence Wang.

Phone calls to the Xincai county court and the news office of the county's public security bureau were not answered Sunday.

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