WASHINGTON – Chants that aren't allowed in China filled the street in front of the White House.
Carrying banners with phrases such as “President Bush,why are you silent?” protesters gathered across the street from the president's house,in an Amnesty International rally on Monday. They asked China to change its human rights policy before the Olympic games start Aug. 8 in Beijing.
The crowd included young and old and multiple ethnicities. They asked China to end Internet censorship,free human rights defenders,close labor camps and restore freedom of speech.
Amnesty International's major complaint is that China has failed to keep the promise it made about human rights in 2001,when Beijing was a finalist for the games. China also promised environmental and city-wide clean-ups.
But the protesters say the government hasn't lived up to its promises. The activists now put their hope in Bush,who plans to attend the Olympics,either to cancel his trip in protest or to pressure Chinese President Hu Jintao to act. Bush's plans have not changed,a White House spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Amnesty International and other watchdog groups say China's level of censorship is upsetting. Hundreds of international Web sites are blocked,and many Chinese are not allowed to start their own. A 2007 Amnesty International report said the government has increased the blocking,filtering and monitoring of Internet information.
“Today we have 80 dissidents – cyber-dissidents and journalists – behind bars in China. It's more than in 2001,when the games were awarded to Beijing,” said Lucie Morillon,the Washington representative of Reporters Without Borders.
Only days ago,China released two journalist prisoners. Yu Huafeng,a senior editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily,went home to Guangzhou in southern China. Ching Cheong,a Hong Kong reporter for the Straits Times of Singapore,was released after having served half of a five-year sentence.
“We think it's not too late to get some people released,” said Morillon.
Jacob Colker,campaign manager for the International Campaign for Tibet,said,”Six months is an abundance of time for the Chinese leadership to make real improvements on human rights before August. They've proven that with building stadiums and cleaning up Beijing. China has shown us that when they want to they can move mountains.”
In 2006,in the East Room of the White House,Bush and Hu offered toasts to the Beijing games.
While neither leader mentioned human rights issues,Bush said that the games will showcase China's commitment to “institutions that make fair and peaceful competition possible for all nations” and Hu said he expected trade to expand.
State Department spokesman Rob McInturff said the U.S. is fully supporting the games in Beijing. However,he said,the U.S. doesn't agree with China on every issue and does have qualms with its human rights record.
“The offer is still out there for a human rights dialogue with China,” McInturff said. “But,the games are an opportunity for China to shine.”
On Tuesday,film director Steven Spielberg withdrew as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics because of China's stance on the conflict in Sudan. China has said United Nations peacekeepers in the Darfur region would be ineffective.
More than 10,000 athletes from 205 countries will compete in the games,”and bring with them the attention of the world,” said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel.
“We believe the Olympic games being held in China will help create a level of understanding and awareness that would otherwise not be possible,” he said.
At Monday's rally,a man with a weathered face,Charles Lee,43,protested the American silence on the lack of human rights. Lee came to the United States in 1991 and became an American citizen but went back to China in 2003 to work for free speech rights. The Chinese government arrested him and gave him a “show trial,” not allowing him to present evidence or defend himself.
Lee,who has an advanced science degree and works in a flooring company in Lyndhurst,N.J,was sent to prison for three years. There,the government tried to brainwash him and forced him to work in a “re-education labor camp” making slippers that are sold in the U.S. Lee held up a bright yellow slipper featuring a puffy version of the cartoon character Homer Simpson's face and proclaimed,”I was literally forced to make these slippers in prison,and you can buy these in Target for $12 or $13.”
Lee is a practitioner of Falun Gong,a system of beliefs similar to Buddhism. China has outlawed its practice and arrested many of its members.
Lee said he would like to go back to China but is banned from doing so until 2012.
Lee said the Communist regime is even worse than the oppressive Nazi or former Soviet governments. Tourists should boycott the Beijing Olympics,he said,a position Amnesty International hasn't endorsed.
In October,the Beijing Organizing Committee for the games issued a press release in which Hu acknowledged China's promise to change the human rights situation.
Beijing Vice Mayor Liu Jingmin said in the release that living conditions have already improved since the games were scheduled.
“The Olympic preparatory work is progressing concurrently with China's development,and in the process,the democracy and human rights of the people will be vigorously enhanced and safeguarded,” Liu's statement said.
At the rally,Colker said,”They use the Olympic slogan,‘One World,One Dream.' And I have to wonder what kind of world Jintao envisions for this world. What dream and whose dream is this?”