China has failed to act on promises to improve human rights ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, despite reforming its death penalty system and relaxing rules for foreign journalists, Amnesty International said Monday.

In a report on human rights in China leading up to the Olympic Games, the group said China has extended the use of detention without trial, continues to harass activists whodraw attention to abuses and has introduced new rules to control domestic media and the internet.

Catharine Baber, deputy Asia Pacific director at Amnesty International, said in a news release that China is making some progress in some areas but failing to move forward in others.

"The new extra layer of judicial review for death sentences and the relaxation of restrictions on foreign journalists are important steps towards better respect for human rights in China," she said.

"Disappointingly, they have been matched by moves to expand detention without trial and house arrest of activists, and by a tightening of controls over domestic media and the internet."

Since the start of the year, China has referred all death sentences to its Supreme Court for approval and new rules for foreign journalists took effect, allowing them to bypass permission from local authorities when conducting interviews.

But regulations introduced in September 2006 have tightened official controls over the domestic distribution of news from foreign agencies within China, the Amnesty report said.

And according to a few official rulings released in recent months,Baber said, domestic journalists have to obtain permission before reporting on historical events considered "sensitive" and are banned from broadcasting news on 20 issues, including judicial corruption and human rights campaigns.

They are also subject to a new penalty points systems in which they may be closed down if they lose all their points because of"wrongdoings," Baber said.

She said China promised to provide what it calls "complete media freedom" for the Olympics, but judging from the new rules and regulations, that promise does not include freedom for domestic journalists.

"The failure to ensure equal rights and freedoms for both foreign and domestic journalists smacks of double standards."

She said that the Chinese government appears to be preoccupied with creating a stable environment for the Olympics, but its policies and practices must be founded on respect for the rule of law and human rights.

Otherwise, arbitrary rules will fuel discontent, she added.

'Compulsory drug rehabilitation'

Baber said China is apparently using the Olympics as a pretext to extend its use of detention without trial by police in Beijing because it wants to clean up the city in time for August 2008.

Beijing police have suggested that another form of detention without trial, which they call "compulsory drug rehabilitation," might be extended from six months to one year to force drug users to give up their addictions before the Olympics.

"If the Chinese authorities and the International Olympic Committee are serious about the Olympics having a lasting legacy for China, they should be concerned that the Games are being used as a pretext to entrench and extend forms of detention that have been on China's reform agenda for many years,"Baber said.

Amnesty International, which is publishing regular assessments of human rights in Chinaleading upto the Olympics, said it has sent copies of its latest report to the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee.

"The IOC cannot want an Olympics that is tainted with human rights abuses — whether families forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for sports arenas or growing numbers of peaceful activists held under house arrest to stop them drawing attention to human rights issues," Baber said.

China's Foreign Ministry has rejected the report, saying Monday that the government is improving its legal system and promoting democracy.

With files from the Associated Press