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China: Olympics Media Freedom Commitments Violated

July 8, 2008

For Immediate Release
Human Rights Watch
IOC Ignores Beijing's Broken Pledges and Denial of Access
Hong Kong, July 7, 2008

The Chinese government continues to block and threaten foreign
journalists despite repeated promises to lift media freedom
restrictions ahead of the Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said in a
new report released today.

The Chinese government has prohibited local Chinese-language media
from publishing unflattering news ahead of the Games, leaving foreign
media as the only source of factual reporting about a wide range of
crucial issues in China today. But systematic surveillance,
obstruction, intimidation of sources, and pressure on local
assistants are hobbling foreign correspondents' efforts to pursue
investigative stories.

"Proponents and critics of the Beijing Games agreed on one thing --
that fewer restrictions for international media and scrutiny of China
at this time would constitute progress," said Sophie Richardson, Asia
advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Yet the Chinese government
-- with the help of the International Olympic Committee -- has done
its best to impede progress."

The 71-page report, "China's Forbidden Zones: Shutting the Media out
of Tibet and Other 'Sensitive' Stories," draws on more than 60
interviews with correspondents in China between December 2007 and
June 2008. It documents how foreign correspondents and their sources
continue to face intimidation and obstruction by government officials
or their proxies when they pursue stories that can embarrass the
authorities, expose official wrongdoing, or document social unrest.

Some journalists have suffered serious threats to their lives or
safety. Most recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declined
to investigate death threats made against more than 10 correspondents
and their family members in March and April 2008. In September 2007,
senior Reuters correspondent Chris Buckley was beaten and detained by
plainclothes thugs after interviewing rural citizens who had come to
Beijing seeking redress for abuses committed by local authorities who
were held at an illegal detention facility in Beijing. The following
month, a European television news journalist suffered similar
treatment while trying to report on unrest in Hebei province.

China is also threatening to restrict entry to news organizations
that do not toe the line. In November 2007, a foreign cable news
network that had publicly complained about previous harassment and
detention by Anhui province officials was informed by a Chinese
foreign ministry official that its accreditation to cover the Olympic
Games was in jeopardy. A number of news organizations have reported
difficulties obtaining visas and accreditation in advance of the
Games, and several have begun to publicly voice concerns about
restricted access to venues such as Tiananmen Square.

"These constraints limit what the estimated 25,000 correspondents
going to China for the Olympics can cover," said Richardson.
"Journalists who try to report objectively on the complex realities
of modern China are facing real risks, despite the government's
commitments to give them greater freedom."

In 2001, the Chinese government promised the International Olympic
Committee (IOC) that it would respect free expression in the run-up
to the Beijing Games. In May 2007, the government announced new
freedoms for accredited foreign journalists in the "Service Guide for
Foreign Media"
(http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/31/china16029.htm). The
temporary regulations, in effect from January 1, 2007 until October
17, 2008, allow foreign journalists to freely conduct interviews with
any consenting Chinese organization or citizen. The regulations do
not allow similar freedoms for Chinese journalists.

While some correspondents have noted improvements brought about by
the new regulations, the majority say the regulations have done
little to enable them to report on issues that government officials
are determined to conceal. Those include high-level corruption,
ethnic conflicts, social unrest, public health crises, and the
workings of China's large detention system, including prisons, labor
camps, mental hospitals, and police stations.

For example, national and local authorities were unusually open to
media coverage of their rapid responses following the May 12
earthquake in Sichuan. Yet as soon as the news turned to those
authorities' possible culpability for not doing more in advance to
minimize damage, they reverted to more obstructionist tactics. On
June 3, police forcibly dragged an Associated Press reporter and two
photographers away from the scene of a protest by the parents of
student victims. It remains unclear whether foreign correspondents
will be able to report growing public demands for accountability.

In Tibetan areas, the site of the biggest government crackdown since
the June 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, news remains difficult to report.
Although the government announced on June 26 that it would reopen
Tibet to foreign journalists, it has specified that "previous
procedures" will apply. Those "previous procedures" were an onerous
application process that, according to one veteran foreign
correspondent, made going to Tibet "virtually impossible." In
addition, the fear of retribution for talking to foreign journalists
remains so high that Tibetans are unlikely to be willing to approach
them with important information. That means correspondents are
unlikely to be able to verify the origins of the protests or
determine how many were ultimately killed, injured, or arrested.

Officials have also sought to undermine foreign journalists by
intimidating their more vulnerable Chinese sources. In several cases,
correspondents told Human Rights Watch that officials interrogating
them focused on obtaining the names, mobile phone numbers and
locations of their local sources. One source for a foreign television
journalist was beaten so badly that he required hospitalization;
after his release, he was placed under house arrest. Other foreign
correspondents spoke of sources' subsequently being fired from their
jobs or being threatened -- sometimes with criminal charges -- by
local authorities.

"In recent months foreign journalists have continued to provide
important coverage of serious issues in China," said Richardson. But
neither they nor their sources should have to endure abuses ranging
from harassment to death threats in order to do so, especially in
light of the rights ostensibly granted by the temporary regulations."

Article 51 of the Olympic Charter obliges the IOC to take "all
necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the
different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the
Olympic Games."

Despite Beijing's documented record of ignored pledges and denial of
access, the International Olympic Committee has not publicly
criticized the Chinese government's violations of media freedom
pledges. Indeed, some IOC representatives have publicly praised
China's media freedom. In April 2008, while foreign journalists were
barred from Tibet and some were receiving death threats amidst a
state media-driven vilification of "western media bias," the head of
the IOC press commission, Kevan Gosper, praised the "open-mindedness"
of the Chinese government in "supporting the interests of ...
international journalists."

"The corrosive effects of the violations of Olympics-related media
freedom pledges will linger long after the last athletes have left
Beijing," Richardson said. "It's in the interest of the IOC and the
foreign heads of state who will attend the Beijing Olympics to try to
ensure that media freedom is a lasting legacy of the Games rather
than a broken promise."

The Human Rights Watch report, "Shutting the Media out of Tibet and
Other 'Sensitive' Stories," is available at:
http://hrw.org/reports/2008/china0708/


For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Beijing Olympics, please visit:
http://china.hrw.org/

For more information, please contact:
In Hong Kong, Phelim Kine (English, Mandarin): +852-6604-9792 (mobile)
In Hong Kong, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin): +1-917-721-7473
(mobile); or richars@hrw.org
In New York, Minky Worden (English, Cantonese): +1-212-216-1250; or
wordenm@hrw.org
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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