Disappointed that Beijing was selected to host the 2008 Olympic Games, international human rights groups called on the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and others to press China to improve its human rights record before and during the Games.

Among those criticizing the choice of the IOC was the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. In a statement, the commission said the decision "sends a message to the leaders of China that their appalling and worsening record on religious freedom … does not matter to the rest of the world."

The commission was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to give independent recommendations to the executive branch and the Congress.

On May 1, the commission urged the Bush administration to use its influence to prevent China from being selected as a site for the Summer Games until sustained religious freedom and human rights improvements have been demonstrated. But some regular critics of China's human rights record, including religious leaders and Chinese dissidents, contend that opening the door to trade and other contact with the world's most populous nation will allow democratic values to flower.

Bernardo Cervellera, director of the Vatican missionary news agency Fides, said in a signed editorial on Thursday that failure to award the Olympic Games to China because of its human rights record would be hypocritical and unproductive.

"Punishment for violating human rights would seem to apply only to China," wrote the priest, who is a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. "The Sydney Olympics were awarded to a country guilty of eliminating millions of Aborigines. Not to mention the bribes Australians paid to win the award. The same — bribery — is true for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Anyone who speaks of morality in sport and violation of human rights should take a good look at sport today: it is a business, nothing but business."

"We all know that the Beijing regime is not a democracy," he continued. However, the Olympics could help lessen the pain of China's economic woes and allow its people "to come into contact with the people of the world."

Considering the escalation in serious and widespread human rights violations over the past three years, "the Chinese authorities have a long way to go to demonstrate a healthy and basic respect for human rights," London-based Amnesty International said in a prepared statement.

Religious and ethnic minorities such as Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and Christians continue to face repression, including arbitrary detention, torture, and lengthy prison sentences. Political dissidents, labor activists, and farmers who protest against corruption or injustices also face repression. Others who have opposed Beijing's Olympic bid have been detained or harassed as well, the human rights organization said.

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"The International Olympic Committee should request iron-clad assurances that people will not be rounded up and detained each time one of its officials visits Beijing," Amnesty International said. "It should also monitor how China respects the ethical principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter at all stages of preparation for the Games."

New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the International Olympics Committee for failing to press for guarantees on human rights. "If abuses take place as preparations for the Games proceed, it won't be just the Chinese authorities who will look bad — the IOC and the corporate sponsors will be complicit," Sidney Jones, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said in a prepared statement.

Jones said the challenge now is how to hold China to promises made during the selection process, how to prevent abuses linked directly to the Olympics, and how to use the Games to press for human rights improvements over the next seven years.

The U.S. religious freedom commission urged President Bush to "join with the leaders of all other Olympic countries to press China to live up to the obligations it has undertaken to ensure, beginning now, that the Games take place in an atmosphere in which the religious freedom and human rights of participants, spectators, and Chinese citizens are honored and protected."

Related Elsewhere

The International Olympic Committee's official site covers Beijing's election, offers video of the announcement and features the report filed from the IOC's visit to China.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom statement depicts its deep disappointment with the Olympic decision.

Human Rights Watch answers questions concerning Beijing's selection and issued a press release challenging sponsors to make the games a force of change. The group's 2001 World Report on China said it "showed no signs of easing stringent curbs on basic freedoms."

The U.S. Department of State's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2000 gives more background on religious freedom in China.

Freedom House gives an overview of rights in China,

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China must uphold principles of the Olympic charter, says Amnesty International.

Media coverage of the announcement included: Business Day, BBCNews, The Observer, People's Daily, Sydney Morning Herald, CBS News and Los Angeles Times.

A day after the announcement,

Human Rights Watch condemned the Beijing conviction of a U.S. Academic for "espionage."

In response to the decision, an Economic Times editorial argues fun and games have always taken precedence over human rights.

Previous Christianity Today articles on China's religious freedom include:

House Approves Divisive U.S.-China Trade Pact | But will permanent normal trade relations status help human rights? (May 25, 2000)

China Should Improve on Religion to Gain Permanent Trade Status, Commission Says | Religious liberty in Sudan and Russia also criticized. (May 8, 2000)

How to Change China | Christian business leaders preach economic engagement to expedite reform. But others are leery (May 4, 2000).

Trading on Faith | Open trade with China will open ministry opportunities. But will human rights improve? Editorial. (July 10, 2000)

Freer Trade, Freer Faith? | Christians remain divided in the China trade debate.

China's Smack Down | 53 Christian professors, students, and church-planters detained. (Sept. 11, 2000)

House Approves Divisive U.S.-China Trade Pact | But will permanent normal trade relations status help human rights? (May 25, 2000)

A Tale of China's Two Churches | Eyewitness reports of repression and revival. (July 13, 1998)

How to Pressure China | The Christian's ultimate loyalty is a threat to any authoritarian regime. (July 14, 1997)