China - 2008 Olympic Games - Foreign media curbed as Olympic flame passes through Xinjiang and Tibet

    MONTREAL, June 24 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders today accused
China of breaking its promises to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by
preventing foreign journalists from freely covering the journey of the Olympic
flame through Xinjiang and Tibet.
    Only a few were allowed to go to Kashgar, Urumqi and Lhasa, and they were
forbidden to talk to local people. The authorities also used the passage of
the flame through these sensitive regions to mount a new propaganda campaign
despite the government saying, like the IOC, that the Games must not be
    "The Olympic flame relay journey has never been such a trumped-up
operation where local people have been told to stay indoors because they are
seen as a threat," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "And never
have foreign journalists been so restricted in reporting on an event that has
been outrageously politicised by the Chinese government.
    "Yet the IOC remains silent in the face of this new violation of the
Olympic Charter by Chinese officials using the Olympic flame to justify
political repression," it said.
    Only about 50 foreign journalists were allowed to report on the passage
of the flame through Lhasa on 21 June and nearly half of them were from media
outlets in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan who were handpicked by the Chinese
government. International news agencies and some TV stations with rights to
broadcast the Beijing Games were allowed two days in Lhasa. Other parts of
Tibet have been closed to foreigners for more than three months. No US or
British daily paper was allowed in.
    When they got to Lhasa, foreign reporters were barred from going to the
Jokhang temple in the old part of the city and instead guided to Potala and
the Sera monastery. "A large number of uniformed and plainclothes police
filmed our every move and there were very few monks we could talk to and
question," one journalist told Reporters Without Borders.
    Journalists were kept in a park opposite the old summer residence of the
Dalai Lama where the flame set out from. They were not allowed to follow the
flame, go into the old city or talk to local people. Official guides also
tried to deceive journalists about the situation in Lhasa. One Canadian
reporter who asked why all shops were shut as the flame passed through the
city was told that shops in Tibet were always closed on a Saturday (21 June).
What is not true.
    "The passage of the flame was a sad affair," said another journalist.
"Those watching were chosen by the authorities, police lined the whole route
and there were military checkpoints throughout the city." Website access in
China to some of the reports filed by foreign journalists, such as the
reporter of Canada's Globe and Mail, was later blocked by the authorities.
Officials in Xinjiang strictly supervised the activities of foreign
journalists allowed to report on the passage of the flame through Kashgar and
Urumqi. Despite promises made to foreign media, reporters were banned from
speaking to the local Uighur population at the roadside. "Don't worry, we're
still giving you freedom to report," one official told a Reuters news agency
journalist in Kashgar on 18 June. The few reporters present were surrounded by
police who stopped them leaving the security area. The Xinjiang authorities
even printed a guide for foreign journalists saying that if there was a sudden
event, meaning demonstrations, they would be asked to leave at once. As in
Lhasa, those allowed to see the flame pass were Han and Uighur people chosen
by the authorities, who had asked most people to keep off the streets and to
watch the passage of the flame on TV. Government-controlled media coverage
included harsh comments, such as the Tibetan Communist Party chief's attack on
"the Dalai Lama clique" that he said had to be destroyed. "The red flag with
its five stars will always fly above Tibet," he said.
    One Tibetan official said most of the 1,300 people arrested after the
demonstrations in March had been released, but there was no way to verify
this. The authorities said an Amnesty International report on the imprisonment
of more than 1,000 Tibetans did not have"an ounce of credibility.
    The Chinese official media said the passage of the flame through Lhasa
was a success from the security point of view and the Xinhua news agency said
people were joyous and peaceful. The official search-engine Sohu said the
flame's journey had been a big success in Lhasa after arriving from Mount
Everest. Government TV broadcast special programmes boasting about China's
economic development of Tibet but showed no film of military police present as
the flame passed through Lhasa and Kashgar.
    Several foreign journalists in Beijing told Reporters Without Borders
that the recent claim in the official paper China Daily by Liu Qi, head of the
official 2008 Olympics website BOCOG, that no request for interviews would be
refused was false. Liu said the government would step up its propaganda before
the Games so as to "create favourable public opinion." One French journalist
said there were more press conferences but face-to-face interviews with
officials had become hard to obtain in recent months.

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)

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