By John Ruwitch
BEIJING (Reuters) - The Olympics have so far failed to catalyze reform in China and pledges to improve human rights before the Games look disingenuous after a string of violations in Beijing and a crackdown in Tibet, Amnesty International said.
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The International Olympic Committee, foreign leaders and overseas companies engaging with China could appear complicit if they fail to speak out about the rights violations, the London-based watchdog said on Wednesday. It also called for an end to the repression.
Beijing signed up for the Games hoping they would showcase the country's progress and national unity, but the Olympics year so far has seen pressure mount on China, chiefly over its support for the government of Sudan and human rights record, most recently in Tibet.
In and around Beijing, Chinese authorities have silenced and imprisoned human rights activists in a pre-Olympics "clean up," Amnesty said, noting the cases of Yang Chunlin and Hu Jia.
Yang was jailed last week for five years for "inciting subversion" after helping villagers issue a petition that declared "We don't want the Olympics, we want human rights."
Hu was also tried for subversion and the verdict is expected on Thursday. He has advocated democracy, religious freedom and autonomy for Tibet.
Amnesty also said the crackdown on a rash of demonstrations in and around Tibet in recent weeks has led to "serious human rights violations."
"These actions cast doubt on whether the Chinese authorities are really serious about their commitment to improve human rights in the run up to the Olympics," Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said in a statement.
"The Olympic Games have so far failed to act as a catalyst for reform. Unless urgent steps are taken to redress the situation, a positive human rights legacy for the Beijing Olympics looks increasingly beyond reach."
Days of monk-led marches in Tibet's capital Lhasa devolved into a citywide riot on March 14 that saw Chinese shops thrashed and burned and cars overturned. The government says the violence killed 18 civilians and at least one police officer. The Tibet government-in-exile says around 140 people died.
In a 2001 pitch for the Games, Beijing Olympic organizing chief Liu Qi said the event would "benefit the further development of our human rights cause."
The ruling Communist Party's concept of human rights emphasizes basic necessities for the entire populace, like food, clothing and shelter, rather than individual freedoms, which are frequently subjugated.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said on Tuesday Amnesty was biased and its report predictable.
"Anyone planning to use the Olympics to threaten China, or planning to put pressure on China, has miscalculated," Jiang told a news conference.
(Editing by Nick Macfie and Sanjeev Miglani)