Warning on Olympic media clampdown in Beijing

Reporters Without Borders has published a damning report about the lack of press freedom in China, just six months before the Beijing Olympics, claiming that more than 180 foreign journalists have been arrested, physically assaulted or threatened since the Games were awarded to the Chinese capital in 2001 and its government officials spoke of total freedom of the press around the Olympics.

The report from the Paris-based media watchdog came on the same day that Hollywood film-maker Steven Spielberg withdrew from his role as a creative consultant to the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games over the Chinese government’s continued support for Sudan’s genocidal policies in Darfur.

“It is clear the Chinese government still sees the media and internet as strategic sectors that cannot be left to the ‘hostile forces’ denounced by President Hu Jintao. The departments of propaganda and public security and the cyber-police, all conservative bastions, implement censorship with scrupulous care,” RWB said.

Around 30 journalists and 50 internet users are currently detained in China, the report said. “The government blocks access to thousands for news websites. After focusing on websites and chat forums, the authorities are now concentrating on blogs and video-sharing sites. China’s blog services incorporate all the filters that block keywords considered ‘subversive’ by the censors,” it said.

“The Chinese authorities promised the IOC and international community concrete improvements in human rights in order to win the 2008 Olympics for Beijing. But they changed their tone after getting what they wanted… The repression of journalists and cyber-dissidents has not let up in the past seven years.

“The IOC is currently in the best position to demand concrete goodwill gestures from the Chinese government. It should demand a significant improvement in the human rights situation before the opening ceremony. And the IOC should not bow to the commercial interests of all those who regard China as a vital market in which nothing should be allowed to prevent them from doing business.”

RWB said that 15 Chinese journalists and cyber-dissidents were arrested in 2007 for “inciting subversion” or “disclosing state secrets”; 55 reporters and internet-users have been arrested in China since the country was awarded the Olympics, it added.

“All eyes will be on China when the Olympic Games opens in Beijing on August 8, while 100 or so journalists, internet users and bloggers remain in the country’s prisons,” stated the report.

Previous reports on this topic:

Media complaint over “spying” in China

Beijing build-up offers much for the media

China condemned on press freedoms

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