What Human Rights Activists Want from China

China's policies have had groups like Human Rights Watch on its case for years. Now the upcoming Olympic Games is bringing attention that may force change, says HRW's Minky Worden, editor of China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges.

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Unidentified Woman #1: Beijing, we are ready.

Unidentified Man #1: Beijing, we are ready.

Unidentified Man #2: Beijing, we are ready.

Unidentified Man #3: Beijing, we are ready.

Unidentified Woman #2: Beijing, we are ready.

Unidentified Man #4: Beijing, we are ready.

Unidentified Man #5: Beijing, we are ready.

Unidentified Group: Beijing, we are ready.

ALISON STEWART, host:

I think Beijing is ready.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: You know who else is ready? Human Rights Watch. The watch's strong group is hoping the Beijing Olympics will give it a chance to highlight human rights issues in the communist country. So 157 days from the opening ceremonies, what concerns are at the top of Human Right's watch list?

Minky Worden is the media director of Human Rights Watch and editor of the forth coming book, "China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges." She worked in Hong Kong for six years as well as in DC at the U.S. justice department.

Hi, good morning, Minky.

Ms. MINKY WORDEN (Media Director, Human Rights Watch; Author, "China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges"): Good morning.

STEWART: Okay. Can you describe for me what your role is within Human Rights Watch as it relates to the Beijing games?

Ms. WORDEN: Sure. Well, Human Rights Watch has a team of people who have worked on China in some cases for closer to 20 years. And we've done also about 20 years of reports on human rights issues in China. Everything from your sort of classic political freedom to religious freedom, the death penalty, HIV/Aids, Internet censorship. So we've done, really, 20 years of work and we identified the Olympics as a moment when there would be probably the greatest opportunity in 30 years - in the last 30 years to encourage China in the right direction. TO press it forward on reform and across a range of areas. And as Melinda Liu said, this really is a moment when the spotlight is going to be on China. Obviously there's a huge press component. So as to my role, there are 30,000 journalists who are going to Beijing to cover the games.

Melinda Liu is in the smallish set of journalist whoa re permanently based in China. But many of them are sports reporters, they're editors, they're people who don't speak the language and who haven't spent a lot of time studying the intricacies of the systems since Mao's day.

STEWART: So, that long list you mentioned. I know it goes on and on. I you could pick, I'm going to say two issues that could possibly improve as the result of China being watched bye the world and those 30,000 journalist, which two do you think?

Ms. WORDEN: Well, I'd have to start with press freedom and there are a lot of reasons for that.

STEWART: Because the media loves to report on itself, first of all.

Ms. WORDEN: Well…

STEWART: I'll tell you that up front.

Ms. WORDEN: There's that but this is one area where China made clear public pledges, public commitments and it's also contractually obligated by their Olympic contract to allow journalists, quote, "full freedom to report." So this was one area that we identified as a major opportunity. Many friends and press freedom groups like many (unintelligible) journalist have done the same.

Last January, the Chinese government put in place new so called temporary regulations that allow journalist greater freedoms to report inside China. But there are some important restrictions on that. First of all, it's only foreign journalist so - vast majority of journalist working in China today are actually Chinese.

STEWART: Sure.

Ms. WORDEN: And one other problem is that the regulations aren't being entirely upheld. So what, you know, what were these changes?

Most people don't realize that inside China, if you wanted to interview anyone, you need a government permission.

STEWART: And you will probably - likely many I of these journalist will still have minders.

Ms. WORDEN: These journalist still have minders. I mean there's another important class of people who work in China in the journalism profession and those are Chinese assistants or Chinese aides. Many of them working Chinese journalist working for overseas reporters.

So they're actually the ones. They're not covered by these new temporary regulations. They have possibly fewer protections than before and they're therefore mere vulnerable because what's going to happen is all of these foreign reporters come from around the world. They don't speak the language. The first thing they're going to do when they get there is hire a Chinese journalist to show them where an HIV/Aids village is or where an environmental catastrophe is. And when that happens, there's definite potential for the Chinese aides or the Chinese fixers to be get into big trouble.

STEWART: Sure. I want to talk to you about a quote. You told Human Right News, quote, "Olympic corporate sponsors are putting their reputations at risk unless they work to convince the Chinese government to hold the human rights pledges it made it made to get the games - to bring the game to Beijing. And it seems that you want corporate entities to exert pressure in China but is that realistic considering China's huge economic presence?

Ms. WORDEN: Well, every one of the so called top Olympic sponsors, there's a dozen of those and then there were a number of other suppliers. The top Olympic sponsors are Coca-Cola, Eastman Kodak, McDonalds, Johnson & Johnson, Visa, and a number of international companies. Suppliers are Microsoft, NBC whish for instance has a franchise. And it's entirely reasonable to ask them to do this because their corporate reputations are at stake.

Just to return, for example, to the press freedom question. You know, there really is - there actually is tremendous possibility for reform and opening here. Particularly for the company - let's just take NBC or take Microsoft who work in the information sphere. Because of their sponsor or supplier relationship to the games, they're uniquely positioned to take it up. Take up this question of, for example, extending the temporary regulations to Chinese journalist. Not to turn the screws on fixer - on Chinese fixers.

So they are - you know it's, one, it's manifestly in their own self interest to do it. But two, is that if we succeed in creating an environment where there are greater freedom before the games, it will be that much harder to roll them back after the games leave town.

When the Olympics are over, Human Rights Watch is still going to be working on human rights in China. These companies are still going to be doing business in China. If anything, they're hoping to do more.

STEWART: So this doesn't end after August is what you're saying.

Minky Worden is the media director of Human Rights Watch and the editor of the forth coming book, "China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges."

Thanks Minky.

Ms. WORDEN: Thanks a lot.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey, coming up on the BPP. When you quit the race for president, what do you do with all that left over money?

STEWART: And two people try to take a thousand day boat trip, literally. One of them, super sick, had to get off the boat. She's going to join us in the studios very shortly.

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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