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Foreign media curbed as Olympic flame passes through Xijiang and Tibet

June 25, 2008

Reporters Without Borders
June 24, 2008

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 politicised.

"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 month
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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