Beijing Olympic Games - European Olympic Committees urged to get to grips with issue of human rights in China

    MONTREAL, Feb. 19 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders and Article 19
have written jointly to the heads of all the national Olympic committees in
Europe and to Pat Hickey, the president of the European Olympic Committees
(EOC), on the eve of an EOC meeting on 20 February 2008 in Lausanne.
    "Do we not have a right to expect a joint undertaking from the executive
committee to impose no restriction on the freedom of speech of European
athletes going to Beijing ?" the letter asks. "The Olympic Charter is already
sufficiently precise in this regard and does not permit national Olympic
committees to introduce new bans".
    "The British Olympic Association's attempt to limit the right of athletes
to express their views on 'any sensitive political issue' during the Beijing
games was a regrettable initiative and we welcome its subsequent U-turn", the
letter continues. "We also hail the initiatives taken by several Olympic
committees such as those of Sweden and Norway, which are going to brief their
athletes about the human rights situation in China".
    In their letters, Reporters Without Borders and Article 19 urge the
European Olympic committees to declare unambiguously that statements about
human rights do not fall within the scope of Article 51(3) of the Olympic
Charter and that NOCs and other members of the Olympic Movement should not
attempt to restrict athletes' right to freedom expression, whether explicitly
or implicitly.
    "Olympic athletes should not be deterred from giving sincere and honest
responses to journalists' questions or from making comments on the situation
of human rights in China or other countries out of fear that those statements
will affect their sportive careers in any way. Athletes and NOCs need to
understand this and that Article 51(3) in no way justifies restricting
athletes' right to make such statements".
    Reporters without Borders and Article 19 also call on the European
Olympic Committees to "get to grips" with the issue of human rights in China.
"When Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics in Moscow in 2001, the Chinese
authorities promised improvements in human rights and 'complete press
freedom'. We are very disturbed to see that the Olympic movement is unable to
get the Chinese government to keep these promises".
    "Seven years later, China has not seen any lasting improvement in free
expression. Around 100 journalists, cyber-dissidents and free speech activists
are currently in prison. The dissident Hu Jia was arrested just a few weeks
ago for expressing his views on the human rights situation in the run-up to
the Olympics. Like us, you know that it is unacceptable that Chinese citizens
who are pressing for more freedom should be forced to watch the world's
greatest sports event from a prison cell".
    "The International Olympic Committee's continuing silence on all these
issues is dramatic. The European Olympic Committees must behave differently
and must become the guarantors of the humanist values enshrined in the Olympic
Charter. Your committees must initiate this debate and take a position before
next August. If nothing is done, the Olympic Games will be spoiled and marred
by the deplorable situation of freedoms in China".
    "Preventing athletes from talking about human rights abuses, contrary to
their right to freedom of expression, violates the fundamental principles at
the heart of the Olympic Charter, contradicts the spirit of the Olympic Games
and amounts to condoning the human rights abuses committed by too many
countries around the world, including China".
    "As you know, China's government and Communist Party attach the utmost
importance to the success of the Olympic Games. It is therefore not too late
to get the organisers of the Beijing games to release prisoners of conscience
and lift censorship".

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)

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