Two Reporters Without Borders representatives went to the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne today, three years to the day before the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, which will be covered by thousands of journalists from all over the world but will be spoiled by the lack of press freedom in China and its government’s cruel suppression of dissent.
Reporters Without Borders went to the IOC in order to hand in a letter to its president, Jacques Rogue, with a petition signed by 4,000 people calling on the IOC’s member countries to put pressure on China to allow more freedom of expression.
The press freedom organisation had on several occasions requested a meeting with Rogue to discuss these issues, but never received a reply.
The IOC does not stop congratulating itself over the progress in construction for the Beijing Olympics. But there are no public statements of concern about the lack of free expression which could affect the work of the press and the transparency necessary for the games. Worse still, a senior IOC official recently had no qualms about defending China’s strict curbs on the news media in the name of every country’s right to a "specific communication policy."
China is the world’s biggest prison for journalists, cyber-dissidents and Internet users. Nearly 100 are currently detained - many of them serving long sentences - for freely expressing their views on such issues as democracy, corruption and the plight of minorities.
The Chinese are still not respecting their undertaking to the IOC to let foreign journalists work freely. Aside from the hundreds of blocked foreign news websites, the public security department keeps foreign correspondents under surveillance and does not hesitate to detain, threaten or even rough up those who violate the sacrosanct "Guide for correspondents working in China."
For example, two journalists working for the BBC World Service - a Japanese man and an American woman - were arrested, stripped naked and questioned by the police last month while investigating a massacre of peasants by thugs in the pay of land speculators just a few kilometres outside Beijing.
In August of last year, foreign news photographers were beaten by Chinese police during a football match in Beijing. No police officer was sanctioned.
More generally, the freedom of movement of foreign journalists is restricted. They must request authorisation each time they want to go outside of Beijing. Are these the conditions in which the IOC would like journalists to work before and during the Olympic games?
"The IOC has a duty to influence the Chinese government’s policy towards Chinese and foreign journalists," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "Failure to act on this crucial point would be a momentous failure in the history of the Olympic Games."
The repression of dissident movements and ethnic or religious minorities has never stopped since the 2008 Olympic Games were awarded to Beijing in July 2001. The Chinese authorities harass those who might be tempted to spoil the party. Public executions in stadiums continue to take place in some provinces. This is why Reporters Without Borders continues to call for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games.
The thousands of signatories of the petition - a letter entitled "China: gold medal for human rights violations" - say, "In view of the massive human rights violations in China, I think it is unacceptable if not dangerous to allow the Chinese government to organise the most prestigious sports event."