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China warnings could be aimed at dissent: rights groups

ICC Note:

China has recently announced that “forceful and resolute” measures are being taken against “separatists” forces, specifically in Tibet, to apparently secure a safe environment for the 2008 Olympics. Rights groups suspect the announcement may be a warning to all dissenters – be they Tibetans, Mongolians, or underground Christians. ______________

3/10/08 China (AFP) China’s warnings of a series of sinister Tibetan and Muslim threats could be part of a campaign to silence all manner of dissent ahead of the Olympics, rights groups and activists say.

In recent days, authorities said they foiled a planned attack by “terrorists” in China’s Muslim-populated Xinjiang on the August Olympics in Beijing, as well as an attempt to hijack and crash a plane from the region.

Phelim Kine, Asia researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the warnings were a sign of China’s jitters ahead of the Games about all sources of dissent, not just from Tibetans or the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

“We’re concerned that the Chinese government may use these alleged terrorist plots as a pretext for a new campaign of repression against the Uighur population in Xinjiang and to stifle any public expressions of dissent in Xinjiang ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games,” Kine said.

“It’s fair to say the Chinese government is extremely concerned about potentially embarrassing protests or expressions of dissent from any number of marginalised groups in society,” he said.

Indeed, a wide range of groups aside from those in Xinjiang and Tibet have already sought to use the Olympics as a platform to highlight their causes and pressure the Chinese authorities, while promising protests during the Games.

Among the most prominent voices of dissent have been international organisations pushing China to use its influence with the government in Sudan to end the violence in its Darfur region.

Chinese dissidents have also boldly spoken out against what they say are widespread human rights abuses inside China, amid what they call a worsening crackdown by the country’s communist rulers to silence them ahead of the Games.

A western observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the need to be able to travel to China, also said the government was using the alleged terrorist threat to justify a harder line.

“It’s a crackdown intended to minimise the threat of an event during the Olympics that would gain international attention and reflect poorly on the (Communist) Party,” he said.

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