BY LINDA ROBERTSON
Miami Herald: With five months to count down to the start of the Beijing Games, any hope that the Olympic rings would serve as wheels of progress for the repressive Chinese government is dying. Instead, the devalued rings will make a handy symbol for caricaturists, who can draw them to look like handcuffs.
On Thursday night, activist lawyer Teng Biao disappeared as he was returning home from work in Beijing. He had signed an open letter urging China's leaders to improve the country's abysmal human-rights record, as they had promised when they won the bid for the Summer Olympics in 2001.
Teng will probably join dissident Hu Jia in jail. Teng and Hu wrote ''The Real China and the Olympics'' last fall while Hu was under house arrest.
''When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people,'' they wrote. ``Please be aware that the Olympic Games will be held in a country where there are no elections, no freedom of religion, no independent courts, no independent trade unions; where demonstrations and strikes are prohibited.''
Also jailed, according to Human Rights Watch: Yang Chunlin, who circulated a petition entitled ''We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics,'' protesting land seizures; Lu Gengsong, a journalist who criticized the Communist Party; Yan Zhengxne, a blogger accused of using the Internet to incite ''the overthrow of the socialist system,'' and Chen Shuqing, a member of the banned Chinese Democratic Party.
The closer the Games get, the more the Chinese government cracks down on dissent. China will provide ultimate proof that it is no longer the ''Sleeping Giant'' when it showcases itself Aug. 8-24. The athletic, economic and propaganda spectacle cannot be tarnished by any hint of the massive problems confronting the nation of 1.3 billion people -- pollution, corruption, inflation, water and fuel shortages, a growing gap between rich and poor that contradicts Mao's preachings. Along with the smog, China will clean the capital of dissidents, vagrants and migrants.
NO HUMAN RIGHTS
China's disregard for human rights is down in the gutter with Cuba and North Korea. Censorship of the Internet is carried out by sophisticated police monitoring called the ''Great Firewall.'' Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and practitioners of Falun Gong are among those persecuted for their religion. Amnesty International estimates that China executes 10,000 people per year -- six times the total number worldwide. And ex-prisoners are a major source of organs used in China's lucrative transplant surgery market.
CCP Chairman Hu Jintao makes Raul Castro look soft.
NO CHANGES SO FAR
The Olympics were supposed to be a catalyst for change. The Olympic Charter's goal to use sport for ''promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity'' was actually achieved in 1988, when the Seoul government went from military dictatorship to democracy six months before opening ceremonies. China lost its first bid in 1993 because it was too close to the 1989 Tiananmen Square tragedy. But in 2001, the deal was clear. China pledged to make progress on human rights and in return the International Olympic Committee gave China the Games, along with the multibillion dollar windfall that comes with them.
China has not fulfilled that pledge and the IOC has not held China accountable. For all its detailed reports on venue construction, the IOC hasn't bothered to report on human rights enhancement.
The IOC has enormous leverage, but by not speaking out, president Jacques Rogge looks like he's selling out. Sponsors such as Visa and Coca-Cola aren't going to do anything, either; they have too much money to make.
Rogge won't say the obvious because the Olympics are supposed to be apolitical, even though they never have been. Leave it to people such as Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg, who quit as director of the ceremonies because of China's continued support of Sudan, one of its oil suppliers. Protesters in Myanmar, where a military junta receives Chinese aid, called for a boycott of the Olympics, but no country would pull out and risk angering the world's next powerhouse.
So we're back to China's activists, who have a lot more to lose than the IOC or GE. They'll keep telling the world about China's abuses, and they'll keep getting locked in jail.
''In the deteriorating human rights climate, there is less tolerance of public expression -- in direct contravention China's promises,'' Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Minky Worden said.
``Those who have an obligation to pressure the government are not.''
Silence -- from the IOC, national Olympic committees, corporate sponsors and the 50 heads of state who have accepted invitations to the opening ceremonies -- sends a dangerous, cowardly message. It's the same as a nod of approval.