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U.S. disappointed China didn't open up more

The United States said Sunday it was disappointed the Olympics had not brought more “openness and tolerance” in China and pressed for the immediate release of eight American protesters.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The United States said Sunday it was disappointed the Olympics had not brought more “openness and tolerance” in China and pressed for the immediate release of eight American protesters.

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.

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. But mostly foreign activists staged a series of small illegal demonstrations near Olympic venues and at Beijing landmarks.

Mostly, the foreigners 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 of 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.

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

“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.

In his wrapup 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.

During the games, Beijing organizers were consistently pressed by journalists about people’s right to dissent but they routinely deferred comment by trying to focus on sports rather than politics.

In the first week of the games, several foreign protesters were put on flights out the country within days of being detained. But in the final week, at least 10 foreigners were ordered detained for 10 days under rules that allow officials to hold them without charge for up to 14 days.

British and U.S. officials sought the quick release of their citizens.

Late Sunday, the British Embassy said it has been notified that British protester Mandy McKeown would be deported Monday. The news came after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who attended the closing ceremony, urged authorities to free the woman.

“The Prime Minister did make it clear to China that she should be released,” Greg Mulheirn, the embassy’s first secretary, told The Associated Press by phone.

The U.S. Embassy said six Americans were detained on Wednesday and two others were detained on Thursday. Chinese authorities said the group detained Wednesday would be released Aug. 30 while the pair detained Thursday would be released Aug. 31., it said.

U.S. consular officials met with the detained Americans on Friday and they did not claim maltreatment at the hands of Chinese officials, the embassy said.

Calls to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs went unanswered Sunday, and the Public Security Bureau, which handles internal security, declined to make any immediate comment on the embassy statement.

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.