Dissidents pressure Chinese leaders

BEIJING (AFP) – China’s communist leaders faced a barrage of criticism at home and abroad yesterday over human rights abuses, casting a shadow over Beijing’s efforts to celebrate the one-year Olympics countdown. Leading the calls for Beijing to start honoring Olympic ideals was a group of China’s top dissidents, who issued a rare open letter calling for an end to the «systematic denial of human rights» in the country. The letter, signed by 37 dissidents, writers, lawyers and academics, urged the government to free all prisoners of conscience, allow the return of dissidents abroad and release its stranglehold over the media. Not doing so makes a mockery of Beijing’s own 2008 Games slogan «One World, One Dream,» said the petition. «’One world’ can still be a world where people suffer discrimination, political and religious persecution, and deprivation of liberty,» said the letter, posted on the website of China Rights Defenders, a loose coalition of rights activists. Organized campaigns by China’s small and harried dissident community are rare. The signatories included Bao Tong, once a close aide to deposed former Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang and now the country’s top dissident. The petition’s release was timed to pressure China as it marks today’s one-year countdown to the Beijing Games, which are due to start on August 8, 2008, with much fanfare.