Human rights activists urge pressure on China before the Olympics

Midland, TEXAS — A group of 26 prominent human rights activists have signed an open letter urging the international community to exert pressure on the People's Republic of China to improve its human rights practices before the Summer Olympics open in Beijing.

Among the signatories was Teng "Tony" Biao, a human rights lawyer who was taken into custody March 6 and interrogated by authorities with a bag over his head for 41 hours, according to Bob Fu of the China Aid Association. He was released two days later with a stern warning to not talk about civil rights.

During the same period, a state security vehicle crashed into the car of another famous human rights lawyer, Li Heping, who was driving his seven year old son to school. Both Dr. Teng and attorney Li were strong religious freedom defenders in China according to a press statement by China Aid.

"The letter calls on world leaders, friends of human rights, scholars, athletes, and all members of the entertainment and business communities, to follow the brave lead of movie director Steven Spielberg to urge China to improve its record on human rights," Fu said in the statement.

The letter said, in part: "We, the undersigned, call on the international community to express its outrage at the Chinese government's continued and flagrant disregard for human rights. Its most recent actions reveal a rogue state that blatantly challenges the resolve of free nations everywhere.

"The Chinese government must hear that it cannot benefit from Olympic Gold and, at the same time, deny its citizens the benefits of human rights. If we do not make this stand now, our silence will send a loud message to Beijing, a message that will return to haunt us.

"In the words of the beloved Martin Luther King Jr., 'In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.'"

Wire services were used in this report.