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Group: China fails to improve human rights in 2008

January 12, 2009

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) China failed to enact democratic reforms in 2008 despite promises to do so, a private democracy watchdog organization said Tuesday.

The statement from the Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House came as the group unveiled its 2009 "Freedom in the World," report, an analysis on levels of freedom in almost 200 countries around the globe.

Asia researcher Sarah Cook called China's progress toward freedom in 2008 "disappointing," particularly following its promises to expand opportunities for free expression in connection with the holding of the summer Olympics.

"There were restrictions on Internet access even after there was some opening of that when the Games first began, and ... a lot of attacks and incidents of foreign journalists arrested," Cook said. "Meanwhile, local journalists continue to face a very difficult environment, including arrests."

Tuesday was the first time Freedom House publicized its annual report in Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory despite the fact the two sides split amid civil war in 1949.

Freedom House Director of Studies Christopher Walker said Taiwan was chosen for the report's rollout because of its successful transition from one-party dictatorship to thriving democracy beginning in the mid-1980s.

We wanted "to highlight Taiwan's role as a vibrant democracy in the (Asian) region," he said.

However, Cook expressed concern about the free right of assembly on the island, following strong police action against protesters demonstrating against the visit of a senior Chinese envoy in late October and early November.

Chen Yunlin, the highest Chinese official to visit Taiwan in nearly six decades, was dogged by protesters who viewed his trip as a Chinese attempt to put the self-governed island under its fold.

Thousands demonstrated in downtown Taipei when President Ma Ying-jeou held a brief meeting with Chen. Many also later tried to surround Chen at his hotel, an area off limits to protesters, prompting police to use water cannons and clubs to disperse the crowd.

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