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Activist Says Fear of Democracy Leads to Chinese Crackdown

An American human-rights activist says the recent ouster of autocratic governments in Europe and Central Asia have led Beijing to cut back on human rights in China.

Speaking in Hong Kong after a visit to China, American human-rights activist John Kamm said he had seen a number of negative developments in Beijing's human-rights policies.

He said there has been increased censorship of the Internet and a crackdown on so-called "cyber dissidents." This included the case of Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was convicted in April of sending the text of a government message to foreign-based web sites.

Mr. Kamm said the web site of his own "Dui Hua" foundation, which works to free Chinese political prisoners, has been blocked in China, along with those of other organizations, including the Voice of America.

Mr. Kamm said he also noticed much tighter restrictions on foreign activist organizations. He believes Beijing's new restrictions on dissent are connected to the government's concerns about democratic revolutions that have recently taken place in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, authoritarian governments have lost power in the past two years, and pro-Western regimes installed in their place. Mr. Kamm says Beijing believes that international organizations like his have been involved in ousting regimes that Western governments do not like.

"They [China] are more restrictive about NGOs [non-government organizations], they are clamping down," he said. "In large part it is what I consider to be an irrational fear on the part of the Chinese leadership that a vast conspiracy is in place to undermine the government."

Mr. Kamm said there have also been positive developments in human rights. He noted that the government recently allowed foreigners to sit in on Chinese trials, which could help make them more transparent.

And the government is cooperating more closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mr. Kamm also said the government was working on reform of what it calls "re-education-through-labor" camps, and of its policy on the death penalty. China carries out more executions than any country in the world.

China often releases imprisoned dissidents prior to visits by foreign officials, as shows of "good will."

But Mr. Kamm says he doubts there will be any releases before President George Bush's scheduled visit next month.

"We have not received any indications that there will be, and usually at this time we have some indication of a release," he noted.

Mr. Kamm says dialogue on human rights between Washington and Beijing has stalled. He urged the Bush Administration to put pressure on Beijing to release more political prisoners.