Amnesty International is accusing China of failing to live up to commitments it made to improve human rights seven years ago, when the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing.
In a report issued Tuesday from Hong Kong, called The Olympics Countdown: Broken Promises, the international agency says human rights in China have actually deteriorated since 2001 in four key areas:
- Persecution of human rights activists, thousands of whom have been arrested in the runup to the Aug. 8-24 event, according to Amnesty.
- Detention without trial, including measures to keep activists in jail until the Games have ended.
- Censorship, including harassment of foreign journalists and the widespread blocking of websites originating within and outside China.
- The continued imposition of the death penalty for a total of 68 crimes, including non-violent ones such as drug-related offences.
"The Chinese authorities are tarnishing the legacy of the Games," said Roseann Rife, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
During a news conference in China on Tuesday, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the report's findings.
"I know that anybody who knows about China would not agree with this report on the deterioration of China's human rights situation," said the unidentified spokesman. "We hope it can take off the colour glasses it has worn for many years and see China in an objective way."
The Amnesty report calls on the Chinese government to release all imprisoned activists and allow journalists to report freely when the Games officially start with the opening ceremonies on Aug. 8.
It also encourages world leaders planning to attend the opening ceremonies to use the opportunity to speak out on rights violations.
Amnesty also used its news conference to point out that journalists covering the Games may have difficulty posing questions about its report to Chinese officials; authorities have blocked access to the Amnesty International website from the Olympic media centre in Beijing.
The human rights group has issued similar reports on China in the past, including one in April that made many of the same points.