At a time when China is touting its Olympic mascots, stadiums and hospitality, a San Francisco-based human rights group has suggested that it add one more feature for the Games: the first "Olympic pardon" of political prisoners.
The Dui Hua Foundation made its appeal public Thursday, offering an approach it believes could help Beijing improve a reputation battered in recent months by its Tibet crackdown, Darfur policies and the protests dogging the global relay of the Olympic torch.
Dui Hua's proposal was sent through government channels late last month to Wu Bangguo, the head of China's parliament. The group argues that pardons would be in keeping with the Olympic themes of peace, solidarity and humanitarianism.
The wife of one prominent prisoner agreed.
"This would offer a good opportunity to improve human rights in China," said Zeng Jinyan, whose husband, Hu Jia, is serving a 3 1/2 -year sentence after he criticized the government for failing to improve its human rights record ahead of the August Games.
"The government has not acted in keeping with the rule of law."
Dui Hua said it hoped that a less confrontational approach as others were demonstrating against Chinese policies or threatening a boycott of the Olympics' opening ceremony would appeal to members of the government looking to soften China's image.
"This is a concrete step that China can take," said Joshua Rosenzweig, the group's manager of research and programs. "We've hopefully tried to raise it as a suggestion, not a criticism."
Although Dui Hua said it was not pursuing the release of specific prisoners, it cited two long-imprisoned groups whose release would not threaten social order.
One group includes prisoners serving terms related to the 1989 student uprising in Tiananmen Square; their release would enable China to put that chapter behind it. The second includes those convicted of being "counterrevolutionaries" or "hooligans," charges removed from the criminal code in 1997.
Dui Hua said the idea was favorably received by Chinese officials it conferred with, although that did not mean a pardon would materialize.
Dui Hua, founded in 1999, has taken a lower-key approach toward China than some other human rights groups, issuing lists of known political prisoners, developing relationships with Chinese officials and working through diplomats and the media for reduced sentences.
Other human rights groups said an "Olympic pardon" could work.
"It's doable, reasonable and may fit with China's desperate need to rehabilitate its public image ahead of the Games," said Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch. "China has nothing to lose."