The cloud over Beijing's Olympics

China promised to improve its human rights record "to earn the right to host" the 2008 Summer Olympics, said The New York Times, but last week's arrest of a well-known dissident suggests Beijing is still determined to "silence anyone who da

What happened

China faced renewed pressure to improve its human rights record after police arrested a well-known dissident—Hu Jia—who had exposed abuses using a blog after he, his wife—activist Zeng Jinyan—and their baby were placed under house arrest in December. Hu is expected to be charged with inciting subversion of state power in a case that human rights groups said would damage Beijing’s image as it prepares to host the Summer Olympics. (London Guardian)

What the commentators said

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China promised to shape up “to earn the right to host the Games,” said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration). Instead, with the Games just six months away, it appears “determined to silence anyone who dares to tell the truth about its abuses.” It hasn’t made good on promises to improve air quality or respect press freedom, either. The U.S. and other world powers “must keep reminding Beijing, publicly and privately, that it will be judged as much on how it treats its people as on the quality of the Olympics’ made-for-TV spectacle. The whole world will be watching.”

Now is the time to step up the pressure, said the Houston Chronicle in an editorial. The Games give the world leverage that will soon be lost. Despite its promise to the International Olympic Committee that it would give foreign journalists “complete freedom” to cover the Games, China is “the world's biggest jailer of journalists, with 29 news media members in prison for practicing freedom of speech and the press.”

Clearly Beijing has decided that “putting troublesome people like Hu Jia in prison until the Olympics are over is the best way to keep the peace,” said Simon Elegant in’s China Blog. “The trouble is, as the Games approach, many, many more reporters are going to show up wanting” to talk to activists living under house arrest, or do some digging of their own. Right now the government is keeping things quiet—it had thugs rough up one German TV crew to keep them from interviewing a confined dissident. But you can only beat up so many foreign reporters “without causing a major stink.”

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