Reporters Without Borders - Open letter



    MONTREAL, Nov. 29 /CNW Telbec/ -

    Mr. Jacques Rogge
    President
    International Olympic Committee
    Lausanne, Switzerland

    Paris, 29 November 2007

    Dear Mr. Rogge,

    We are receiving extremely disturbing reports from China about the way
    the authorities are preparing for the arrival of tens of thousands for
    journalists and media workers for the Beijing Olympic Games.

    It is becoming clearer and clearer that the organisers of the Beijing
    Olympics and the Chinese security apparatus have decided to control
    journalists very closely before and during the games. The authorities
    said, for example, that they were planning to compile files on
    journalists and reserved the right to turn them back even if they were
    accredited by National Olympic Committees.

    You must be aware that the games organisers announced that they were
    going to conduct ID checks on all accredited journalists. Yang Minghui,
    the deputy head of the games accreditation office, defended this decision
    as a security requirement, as if journalists could pose a threat or be
    potential terrorists. "If they do not pass the tests, their accreditation
    requests will be refused and the process will stop there," he said,
    adding that "the aim is to eliminate people who pose problems for the
    security of the games."

    Other Olympic cities compiled files on journalists in the past, but this
    was for organisational purposes and never with the intention of refusing
    entry on grounds which - as everyone must realize in the case of Beijing
    - are political.

    The announcement followed an earlier one by the General Administration of
    Press and Publications (GAPP) that it was going to compile files on the
    approximately 30,000 journalists coming to the games. A GAPP
    representative said the purpose was to identify "fake journalists" and to
    help Chinese officials respond to interview requests. But the government
    has not said what kind of information will be gathered.

    In recent months, there have been several leaks in the media about the
    instructions given to the public security and state security departments
    as regards identifying groups in China and abroad that are likely to want
    to demonstrate during the games. Journalists could also be targeted by
    this preventive surveillance and it is possible that hundreds of people
    will be banned from entering China.

    Reporters Without Borders hailed the adoption of new rules for the
    foreign press last January. But, 11 months later, the results are
    negative. It is true that the foreign ministry has in some cases tried to
    help foreign journalists who had been detained or attacked, but we have
    registered more than 50 cases clearly showing that the authorities are
    not respecting the new rules.

    Barbara Luthi, the Beijing correspondent of the Swiss TV channel
    Schweizer Fernsehen, and her Chinese camerawoman were, for example,
    recently hit and detained for seven hours by the authorities in Shengyou,
    a village in Hebei province where unrest led to the deaths of several
    residents in 2005. At least five foreign journalists have been prevented
    from working in this village, located near Beijing, in recent months.

    Mathias Brascheler and Monika Fisher, a Swiss husband-and-wife team of
    photographers, were recently detained for three hours in Wuchang, in
    Hubei province, while preparing a report on villagers who had been
    threatened and beaten in connection with a land dispute.

    Even more serious is the fact that Chinese journalists and dissidents
    continue to fall victim to repression. For example, cyber-dissident Yang
    Maodong, who is better known by the pseudonym of Guo Feixiong, was
    sentenced to five years in prison and a heavy fine in mid-November for
    publishing a book without permission. Cyber-dissident and blogger He
    Weihua was confined against his will to a psychiatric hospital in Hunan
    in August. Relatives told Reporters Without Borders he has no mental
    illness whatsoever and that the real reason for this measure was the
    articles he had posted on his blog, www.boxun.com/hero/hewh/. In all,
    about 100 journalists, cyber-dissidents and human rights activists are
    currently detained in China.

    Human rights organisations are noting an increase in political
    repression. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, the number of trials on
    a charge of "jeopardising state security" has doubled from last year to
    this. Quoting officials sources, the foundations says no fewer than 600
    people have arrested on this charge.

    As you know, those targeted also include people who provide the outside
    world with information about political repression. Three Tibetans have
    just been sentenced by a court in Kardze, in Sichuan province (adjoining
    Tibet), to prison sentences ranging from three to ten years for
    "espionage for foreign organisations endangering state security." Their
    crime was to have sent abroad photos of demonstrations by Tibetan nomads
    in early August.

    We also deplore the often disturbing level of propaganda and nationalist
    fervour surrounding the preparations for the Olympic Games. On
    19 November, for example, the government newspaper Huanqiu Shibao (Global
    Times) attacked foreign news media that "spread rumours to destabilise
    the government," citing the Washington Post, the International Herald
    Tribune, Die Welt, Associated Press and Voice of America. Mentioning
    Reporters Without Borders, it also criticised NGOs that keep relaying
    "prejudices" about China.

    Similarly, in the past month the Propaganda Department sent a written
    directive to the leading Chinese news media asking them to avoid
    publishing "negative" stories on matters affecting the games such as air
    pollution, a dispute over Taiwan's inclusion in the Olympic torch relay,
    and public health issues.

    It was expected that the foreign news media would be allowed greater
    access to the Chinese market before the Olympic Games. Instead, the
    government has maintained its monopoly of the sale of news to Chinese
    media, depriving foreign news agencies of potential clients. In response
    to questions by the European Union, Canada, Japan and the United States
    before the Word Trade Organisation, China said on 12 November that it had
    not signed any provision requiring it to open up the business news
    market. When the state news agency Xinhua's control over the distribution
    of foreign news agency content was reinforced in September 2006, we
    described Xinhua as a predator of free enterprise and the freedom to
    report the news.

    This is not the first time that we have written to you, Mr. Rogge, to ask
    you to speak out and take action on behalf of press freedom in China. You
    have never replied directly, letting other IOC members argue that your
    organisation does not concern itself with political matters. We have met
    IOC officials in Lausanne, but no concrete measures for the press ensued.

    The organisation you head is constantly trumpeting the progress being
    made with the work on the Beijing games infrastructure but it has not
    made any public statement of concern about the lack of freedom of
    expression, which will undermine the work of the media and the
    transparency that is needed for the games.

    Mr. Rogge, it is your silence that has unfortunately made all these
    abuses possible. We continue to think that the IOC should do everything
    it can to influence the policies of the Beijing games organisers towards
    Chinese and foreign journalists. A failure to rise to this key challenge
    would represent an enormous setback in the history of the Olympic
    movement.

    I look forward to your reply.


    Sincerely,

    Robert Ménard
    Secretary-General




For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, secretary general, Reporters
Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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