HONG KONG�China has postponed a two-week visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture until later in the year, drawing criticism from human rights groups, RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese services report.

Special Rapporteur Theo van Boven was originally scheduled to arrive in China at the end of June, but Beijing has now delayed his visit until later in year.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said his visit would involve coordinating many departments and schedules, and that more time was needed to prepare: �China still welcomes his visit,� she told a regular news briefing.

But human rights groups said the postponement showed Beijing's lack of sincerity about the visit, which has been planned for more than a decade but has yet to occur.

�The Chinese government has engaged in a recurring strategy of responding to international pressure and scrutiny with well-timed overtures that it and other governments can point to as indicators of Chinas progress in human rights reforms,� the New York-based Human Rights in China said in a statement. �Once the pressure recedes, these overtures are all too often withdrawn.�

Van Boven, who was due to present his report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission, lamented the delay, stressing that freedom to make inquiries as well as access to places of detention were necessary for a proper assessment.

He also underlined the need for confidential interviews with detainees and other people, without fear of reprisal, the statement said.

China frequently cracks down on dissidents and the groups of protesters now found camped outside the gates of government departments in most major cities, especially ahead of key anniversaries and important official visits by overseas figures.

Dozens of long-term petitioners camped outside government offices in Beijing with complaints of official corruption and mistreatment were rounded up and loaded into vans ahead of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, petitioners told RFA's Mandarin service in May.

Of a regular crowd of long-term petitioners outside the municipal government, the government complaints office, and the state prosecution headquarters, the People's Procuratorate, several petitioners reported round-ups throughout May, especially of those protesting official corruption.

Protests on major thoroughfares and outside government departments have become a regular sight across China, making the problems of millions of peasants, laid-off workers, and those forcibly evicted from their homes all too visible to other sectors of society.

And one former detention center inmate said that despite official promises that the UN inspector's itinerary would be kept secret in advance, China would almost certainly make major preparations at all the prisons and law enforcement centers on his visit.

Petitioner Liu Anjun told RFA in a May interview that no-one would dare to tell the truth to a U.N. inspector who visited them while they were under detention.

�Two days before a visit by city leaders, let alone the United Nations, detention centers and police stations in every district start cleaning up their act for the visit,� Liu said. �They tell you what to say. You can�t get it wrong. You have to learn it off by heart. If you don't you get beaten.� #####


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