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Human Rights Groups Ask IOC to Insist on Free-Speech Guarantees at Future Olympics

Human rights groups in the United States say the Chinese government did not live up to its promises to respect free speech and human rights during the Beijing Games, and they want the International Olympic Committee to insist on free-speech guarantees from the host of any future Olympics. VOA's Walter Wisniewski has more from New York.

Activists, gathered outside New York's City Hall, included some of the eight Americans who were arrested in Beijing, interrogated at length and then expelled from the country at the same time the games' closing ceremonies were taking place in the Chinese capital.

Tom Grant, a film-maker and a supporter of the group Students for a Free Tibet, says he and his companions were not staging a protest but were leaving a restaurant in Beijing when police arrested them. The young activists said they were held separately, interrogated for eight to 10 hours a day and refused permission to contact anyone.

"We were forced to sign statements that were only written in Chinese, translated only in synopsis in English," he said.

After three days, Grant says he was told that all eight had been sentenced to 10-day jail terms, which would have kept them in custody for nearly a week after the Olympics ended. Soon afterwards, however, they were freed and taken immediately to the airport to be deported. Police seized and kept all of the Americans' cameras, computers and recording equipment.

The activists who spoke to reporters Monday said their main concern was not their own treatment, but the human rights situation of the people of China, including residents of Tibet and the western province of Xinjiang, the scene of recent unrest.

The human rights groups, Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House, say these and other incidents demonstrate that the Chinese government ignored its promises to the International Olympic Committee to respect protesters' rights during the games.

Sarah Cook of Freedom House in New York blames the IOC for what she called its "spinelessness and silence" in the face of a crackdown on foreign activists trying to stage protests in Beijing.

"Freedom House is calling on the IOC and the international community as a whole to review the entire process by which governments are awarded the games," she said.

She says the world community has an obligation to ensure that democracy is respected by the organizers of future games, such as the winter Olympics scheduled to take place at Sochi in Russia in 2014.

The director in New York for Reporters Without Borders, Tala Dowlatshahi, says the Olympic movement must reorder its priorities when considering applications to host the Olympics.

"The current criteria are technical and material and environmental, but why not add respect for free expression," said Dowlatshahi.

The free-press advocate says countries that wish to host the Olympics should be judged by the independence of their news media and the extent of any government censorship, plus the degree of freedom that journalists have to work freely and safely.