China is the world's most populous country, with a continuous culture stretching back nearly 4,000 years.

Many of the elements that make up the foundation of the modern world originated in China, including paper, gunpowder, credit banking, the compass and paper money.

After stagnating for more than two decades under the rigid authoritarianism of early communist rule under its late leader, Chairman Mao, China now has the world's fastest-growing economy and is undergoing what has been described as a second industrial revolution.

Human rights campaigners continue to criticise China for executing hundreds of people every year and for failing to stop torture. The country is keen to stamp down on what it sees as dissent among its ethnic minorities, including Muslim Uighurs in the north-west. The authorities have targeted the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which they designate an "evil cult".

Chinese rule over Tibet is controversial. Human rights groups accuse the authorities of the systematic destruction of Tibetan Buddhist culture and the persecution of monks loyal to the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader who is campaigning for autonomy within China.

In China, serious human rights violations continue to be committed. This includes torture, execution (in which China is world leader), excessive use of force in policing labour and rural unrest, repression of dissent and the free exchange of information and forced repatriation of asylum seekers without recourse to a refugee determination procedure. Foreign governments continue to fail in challenging China's disastrous human rights record.

The death penalty violates the right to life and is an affront to human dignity. Conditions of detention on death row in China are cruel and degrading.

China's Re-education Through Labour programme violates the right to fair trial and the prohibition of forced labour. People on programmes like this risk torture and ill-treatment.

Chinese human rights defenders are harassed, assaulted and imprisoned for their legitimate protests. This violates their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Unwarranted censorship of the internet violates the rights to freedom of expression and information.

Internationally-recognised religious freedom standards are routinely ignored in China. Persecution against Christians varies from harassment, humiliation, fines and church closures to imprisonment, torture and forced labour. When Christians are arrested they are often beaten, at times leaving them with serious injuries and in need of hospital treatment. China also consistently refuses to acknowledge the existence of North Korean refugees within its territory. Instead it returns them to North Korea where they face mistreatment, torture and even death in some cases.

During the Olympic selection process, the Chinese authorities made repeated assurances that the human rights situation in China would improve in the run-up to the event. So far they are breaking that promise, seven years on, China remains a country that executes, tortures and silences its citizens.

When the International Olympic Committee in July 2001 awarded China the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, Chinese citizens were ecstatic. But what potentially could have been China's proudest moment has turned into something of a public relations minefield as world media probe China's human rights gains and abuses.

Hosting the Olympic Games provides China with a unique opportunity to showcase its stunning economic development. But with an estimated half a million foreign visitors expected and over 20,000 journalists, the government fears it will also be a prime opportunity for dissidents and human rights activists to present their cause to the world media.

As Liu Junning of the China Cultural Research Institute pointed out recently, Chinese leaders want the country ... put in the limelight. But the light is very hot.

Chinese citizens can now choose their own careers, travel abroad, own a car and establish a business. But Christians cannot legally hold a prayer meeting in a private home, share a church service with foreign Christians or interact with foreign Christian organizations. China still bans religious education for children under the age of 18 and limits the publication of Bibles and other religious materials.

There are fears that religious persecution will increase after the Games as the world's media moves on from China.

The government has stepped up an official campaign against human rights activists and lawyers in recent months - and increased its suppression of religious believers, particularly members of unregistered Protestant and Catholic groups.

The worse may be yet to come; CAA sources are predicting a severe crackdown on all unregistered house churches beginning on June 1.

Religious freedom may be tightening for Chinese Christians, but authorities hope to accommodate the spiritual needs of visitors to the Olympic Games.

For starters, Beijing officials have asked local believers to provide religious services for foreigners attending the Games, according to a Reuters report on March 5.

In response, Chen Guangyuan, president of the Islamic Association of China, said his association was training volunteers to hold English and Arabic prayer services for visiting Muslims.

Fu Xianwei, president of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of Protestant Churches, and Liu Bainian, vice-chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, both told media that they were providing language training for official religious services during the Games.

The Beijing Olympic Committee responded positively to Liu's suggestion that Bibles be placed in Beijing hotel rooms for the religious needs of foreign visitors, according to a report in the China Daily on March 10.

Amid reports of Chinese authorities confiscating Christian literature ahead of the Games, Luis Palau, a prominent Christian evangelist, has encouraged Christian visitors to bring Bibles to the Olympics.

Any person can go in there and take Bibles, as long as they're not selling them, Palau told The Christian Post.

His suggestion, however, directly contradicted a November 2007 edict, when the Chinese government included the Bible on a list of items banned from the Olympic Village and warned visitors not to bring more than a single Bible with them on their visit to China.

Without improvements to human rights in China, the Olympic host will be remembered as a country that executes, tortures and silences its citizens.

Sources: BBC, Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors