Dissident invites Olympic chief to visit jail

As Tibet protests rippled around the globe yesterday, one of China's most prominent dissidents delivered a powerful rebuke to the head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, from his jail cell in Beijing No. 2 prison.

"I have a question for Mr Rogge," wrote He Depu. "Each time you come to Beijing and see the joyous spectacles here, do you know that just 10 or so kilometres away, Beijing's political prisoners are suffering immensely for the progress of society and the elevation of human civilisation? Tens of thousands of prisoners in Beijing, each holding a bowl half-full of boiled vegetables, are training their eyes upon you. How does this make you feel?"

Mr He took part in the Democracy Wall Movement in 1979, the pro-democracy movement in 1989, and in 1998 helped form the banned China Democracy Party. He was jailed for eight years in 2002 for "inciting subversion of state power" and his letter passed through many hands before it reached the Human Rights in China group, which has published it.

The political prisoner invited the Olympic chief to pay him a visit and shine the spotlight on the woeful conditions in the jail. "We are not asking for a total transformation in the human rights condition," he wrote. "We are only asking for a small, basic change."

There have been numerous expressions of dissent in the run-up to the Olympic Games, which will open this evening at the "Bird's Nest" stadium, as activists of various hues seek to use the Olympic platform to highlight their causes.

Following protests yesterday by British and US students calling for freedom for Tibet, three American Christian activists protested on Tiananmen Square for religious freedom and human rights before they were swooped on by Chinese plainclothes security officials as they started a prayer vigil. It was the second day they had held the protest.

The US President George Bush used some of the strongest language yet to publicly press China to improve its human rights record, one day before his arrival in the country to watch the Games.

"The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings," he said in a speech in Bangkok. "America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, and human rights advocates and religious leaders."

More than 40 athletes competing in the Olympics have urged China to peacefully settle contention over Tibet and protect freedom of religion and opinion. They are among 127 international athletes reported to have signed a petition to the President Hu Jintao, bringing sports and human rights together in a way that Beijing rejects, saying it does not want to "politicise" the Olympics.