China Celebrates One-Year Olympic Countdown Amid Criticism on Human Rights, Press Freedom

Sporting events and ceremonies across China are being held at the start of the one-year countdown to the Beijing Olympic Games. China has been commended for its Olympic preparations, but is being criticized for failing to honor promises to improve human rights and press freedom ahead of the games. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge, will join Chinese leaders and an estimated 10,000 spectators for a Wednesday night countdown to the 2008 Olympics, in Tiananmen Square. Rogge is to take part in a ceremony officially inviting Olympic participants to the Beijing games. Sixty sporting events are also planned.

The IOC president has praised China's preparations. The Chinese government has spent tens of billions of dollars on transportation infrastructure and venues - most of which they expect to finish by the end of the year.

But human rights and press freedom groups say Beijing has failed to honor promises it made when it bid for the Olympics to improve media freedoms and human rights.

Joseph Cheng is a professor of political science at Hong Kong's City University. He says China is more concerned about showing off its economic development and culture than it is about human rights.

"While trying to present the best aspects of China's development to the world, I don't think the Chinese authorities put democratization and the promotion of human rights very high on its policy program agenda," he said.

Rights organizations say the Chinese government has ignored its Olympic pledge and instead tightened controls over the Internet, domestic media, and activist organizations and increased its harassment of dissidents.

Amnesty International says Chinese authorities have been detaining beggars and migrants without trial.

Chinese police also detained six foreign nationals Tuesday with the "Free Tibet" movement for hanging a banner on the Great Wall calling for independence for Tibet.

A group of forty Chinese intellectuals circulated an open letter on the Internet this week calling for improvements in China's human rights and for fair compensation of Beijing residents evicted for Olympic construction.

Some U.S. lawmakers, as well as activist groups, have proposed legislation calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics unless Beijing improves its human rights situation.

Activists say the International Olympic Committee should press Beijing on human rights and press freedom issues.

Chinese Olympic officials have responded to criticism saying the games should not be politicized.

Olympic sports teams have also expressed concern about the effect of China's air pollution on their athletes' health.

Chinese Olympic officials dismissed those concerns Monday saying the government was taking measures to ensure clean air for the Games.

The press freedom group Reporters Without borders held a protest Monday across from the Beijing Olympic committee's headquarters. The Paris-based group said China had not released Chinese writers or improved press freedom as it promised. About a dozen foreign journalists were detained after covering the protest.