Beijing 2008 - Crackdown continues for Chinese human rights activists, with no Olympic truce during games



    MONTREAL, Aug. 13 /CNW Telbec/ - The start of the Olympic Games has done
nothing to help Chinese human rights activists, who continue to be arrested,
watched or threatened. At the same time, incidents involving foreign
journalists, including an attack today on a British TV reporter working for
ITV, shows that the security services are still preventing the foreign press
from working freely.
    To illustrate this, Reporters Without Borders today offers the comments
of a foreign reporter about surveillance and harassment by the Chinese police.
    "In view of the many incidents, we call on the International Olympic
Committee to intercede on behalf of the Chinese citizens who are in danger
because of the position they have taken during the Olympic Games," Reporters
Without Borders said.
    "It is the duty of the Olympic movement in its entirety to ensure respect
for the spirit of the Olympic truce," the organisation added. "Since the
origins of the Olympics, tradition has required that peace should prevail
during the games."
    The IOC website has this to say about the Olympic truce in ancient
Greece: "During the truce period, the athletes, artists and their families, as
well as ordinary pilgrims, could travel in total safety to participate in or
attend the Olympic Games and return afterwards to their respective countries.
(...) The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to revive the ancient
concept of the Olympic Truce with the view (...) to encourage searching for
peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts around the world."
    John Ray of the British television news service ITN was today covering a
protest by several foreign activists who unfurled a pro-Tibet banner near
Beijing's main Olympic zone, when he was arrested by police, dragged along the
ground and forcibly restrained for about 20 minutes although he identified
himself as a journalist. "This was an assault in my mind, I am incredibly
angry about this," Ray told Agence France Presse.
    The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) says there have been five
incidents since 7 August. In one of these incidents, police arrested two
Associated Press reporters in the northwestern province of Xinjiang and erased
the photos they had taken. One of them was arrested while watching the opening
ceremony on TV. Two Scandinavian journalists were prevented from interviewing
peasants in Hebei province about the impact of the games on their activities.
    A European journalist who has been working in Beijing for several years
has given Reporters Without Borders a gripping description of what it is like
for her and her colleagues in Beijing, and the risks run by Chinese who dare
to speak to the foreign press.
    "They don't stop following me, filming me and photographing me," she
said. "I think twice before interviewing Chinese about sensitive issues for
fear that they could be arrested (...) Last week several Chinese were arrested
after giving me interviews. Firstly, people living in the Qianmen district
that is in the process of being renovated. They included a woman in charge of
an association of evicted residents who sued the government for not paying
them enough compensation. The trial began in July but was postponed because of
the Olympics. I interviewed her, as other journalists did. Since then she has
been detained.
    "The same thing happened with the pastor of an unrecognised church.
Finally, a British woman of Tibetan origin was arrested and expelled after
giving me an interview. Under these circumstances, we are all forced to censor
ourselves and to refuse to interview certain Chinese for fear of their being
immediately arrested. We are all in this situation of intimidation, which
makes it very hard for us to work in China, despite the overall improvements.
    "What's more, the official media have not stopped attacking us since last
March's events in Tibet. In addition to the death threats received by dozens
of foreign journalists, the Chinese media try to undermine our credibility.
And all of this gained pace in the run-up to the games."
    She is right about Chinese being arrested for talking to the foreign
media. Zhang Wei, a former resident of the Beijing district of Qianmen, was
arrested on 9 August after filing a request for permission to protest about
her family's eviction two years ago to make way for Olympic construction. The
Associated Press quotes her son as saying she is to be held for a month for
"disrupting the social order." The Public Security Bureau said it was looking
at her case and had no other comment to make.
    Other Chinese are being hounded by the authorities, who fear they could
protest during the games. There has been no news since 7 August of Zeng
Jinyan, the wife of imprisoned activist Hu Jia, and their seven-month-old
daughter. Her mother in law said to several Chinese-language news outlets say
she may has been forced her to leave the capital. She had been under permanent
police surveillance for several years in the "Freedom" residential area where
she lives.
    Some Beijing intellectuals such as Liu Xiaobo and Yu Jie have not been
detained, but are under police surveillance. Wan Yanhai, the head of an NGO
that cares for AIDS sufferers, chose to leave Beijing during the games to
avoid being harassed by the police.
    Hua Huiqi, the head of an unrecognised protestant church, was arrested in
Beijing on 9 August while on his way to a church service that was attended by
US President George W. Bush. His brother - arrested at the same time but freed
a few hours later - says he has had no news of Hua since then. The police deny
ever arresting Hua and claim they had no role in his disappearance. Human
Rights in China meanwhile says it got a short letter in which Hua apparently
recounts his arrest and subsequent escape.
    Ji Sizun, a human rights activist form Fujian province, was arrested on
11 August for filing a request several days earlier for permission to
demonstrate in one for the areas designated by the Beijing authorities for
protests. Human Rights Watch says Ji wanted to organise a rally to protest
against corruption and to call for more citizen participation in government
decisions.
    According to HRW, several other Chinese have been arrested or threatened
for filing demonstration requests. They include relatives of children killed
in the collapse of "tofu" (shoddily-built) schools in the May earthquake in
Sichuan. The Washington Post reports that families were prevent from boarding
flights in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu.
    Several members of the outlawed China Democracy Party were arrested in
the days preceding the games opening ceremony. According to Chinese Human
Rights Defenders, Xie Changfa of Hunan province was arrested on 2 August,
while Wang Rongqing, 65, of Zhejiang province was arrested on 31 July. They
have been charged with inciting subversion of state authority.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director,
Reporters Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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