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Lord Alton said: “It is extraordinary to bar athletes from expressing an opinion about China's human-rights record. About the only justification for participating in the Beijing Games is that it offers an opportunity to encourage more awareness about human rights.
“Imposing compulsory vows of silence is an affront to our athletes, and in China it will be viewed as acquiescence.
“Each year 8,000 executions take place in China, political and religious opinion is repressed, journalists are jailed and the internet and overseas broadcasts are heavily censored.
“For our athletes to be told that they may not make any comment makes a mockery of our own country's belief in free speech.”