When senior officials in Beijing picked yesterday to launch the Human Rights magazine, they could not have expected that it would also be the day a Bible smuggler from Hong Kong would hold a press conference to tell the world about his incarceration on the mainland. The timing of the magazine's launch probably had more to do with the United Nations Human Rights Commission's annual debate in March, at which China is expected to come under criticism for its human rights record, just as it has in past years. Officials probably hoped that the publication of the magazine would provide them with one more example with which to prove to the world that China took human rights seriously. No one could have predicted the arrest of Lai Kwong-keung would put an extra stain on China's human rights record and spark a row that has attracted the attention of US President George W. Bush. In fact, had Lai been charged with the lesser offence of smuggling, the case might have escaped the large amount of attention that it received. After all, as Lai admitted yesterday, he did breach mainland law by importing the Bibles without authorisation. Of course, that would have still begged the question as to why authorisation was needed to import one of the world's most popular publications. What thrust Lai and his co-accused into the limelight was the original decision by local cadres to charge them with 'using a cult to undermine enforcement of the law', an offence which carries the death penalty. Indeed, the crux of the row, which made it a human rights issue, was that the mainland authorities considered the Shouters, for which the Bibles were destined, as a cult - an accusation the group has denied. For many people outside the mainland, and many inside who cannot speak their minds openly, suppressing the rights of members of the Shouters to practise their religious faith is a violation of their human rights. Unfortunately, the right to worship is not what the leadership in Beijing wants the world to focus on. Rather, it wants the international community to pay attention to more 'down to earth' human rights issues such as subsistence and illiteracy. However, it is hard to see why respect for freedom of religion and thought should be incompatible with China's admirable efforts to eradicate poverty and educate its people. Until and unless the mainland allows its people to practise their faiths, it cannot be said to have abided fully by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.