China Still Dogged by Human Rights Issues; Beijing Has Just 1,000 Days to Convince Sceptics That It Can Run a Successful Games without Infringing on People's Freedom

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MATTHEW PINSENT is no stranger to scrutiny. For years, as he worked towards his phenomenal achievement of four Olympic gold medals, the Oxford educated former rower had to put up with coaches, sports doctors and rowing technicians analysing his every movement in a boat.

But next week the four-times Olympic champion-turned-BBC presenter will face the unusual challenge of having his every word monitored closely when he visits China to make a Five Live radio programme on the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

As he attempts to build a new career in the media, it is likely to be a fascinating lesson for him. For it is understood that Pinsent is expecting the Chinese authorities to listen to everything he does during his trip to China.

There was similar monitoring of reporters and presenters during the BBC's China Week earlier this year when programmes like Question Time were broadcast from the country.

It is the sort of development which will alarm the International Olympic Committee as Beijing prepares to mark the 1,000 day countdown to the start of the 2008 Games this week.

One thing is certain, that international reporters visiting London in the build-up to the 2012 Games will not face such restrictions.

On the face of it, the preparations in China for the Games could not be going any better. They are running to schedule and both Western and Chinese companies have been falling over themselves to be part of the sponsorship programme in the most expanding economy on the planet.

But the fact that Pinsent's producers are expecting to have minders on their tails analysing every question and broadcast suggests China has yet to live up to its promises on press freedom. As we edge nearer the Games, there is no doubt that the controversial issues of press freedom and human rights are going to dominate the build-up to the Games for both BOCOG and the International Olympic Committee.

China was ranked 159th in this year's press freedom world rankings of "Reporters Without Borders" - Britain was 25th with Hong Kong 39th.

More than 2,500 political prisoners are either known or strongly believed to be currently incarcerated in China, according to the human rights group Dui Hua Foundation.

At the Moscow meeting in July 2001, when Beijing was awarded the Games, Russian Buddhists, press rights activists and a Tibetan monk demonstrated outside the World Trade Centre against the IOC's plan to take the Games to China.

Inside, a slick team of Englishspeaking officials from Beijing promised to lift restrictions on the media and improve human rights if the Chinese capital was awarded the Games.

Wang Wei, a BOCOG's vice-president, said at the time: "I think we will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China. We are confident that the Games coming to China not only promotes our economy but also enhances all social conditions, including education, health and human rights."

The issues will come to London today with human rights protesters gearing up for protests around the state visit of Chinese president Hu Jintao to Britain.

The Free Tibet Campaign, which calls for an end to Chinese occupation of Tibet, clearly disagrees that enough progress has since been made and is planning to stage demonstrations in London in the next 48 hours. …


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