Mr. Jacques Roggue
President of the International Olympic Committee
Paris, the 28th of June
Dear Mr. President,
As the International Olympic Committee prepares for its next session in Guatemala City, from 4 to 7 July, international public opinion is puzzled by the IOC’s silence about the human rights situation in China. The 2008 Summer Olympics are due to start in Beijing in just over a year’s time but the Chinese government, despite its explicit promises, refuses to make improvements in basic rights and freedom.
Throughout the world, concern is growing about the holding of these Olympics, which have been taken hostage by a government that balks at taking action to guarantee freedom of expression and respect for the Olympic Charter’s humanistic values.
The Chinese authorities promised in Moscow in 2001 to improve the human rights situation. The representative of the Beijing Candidate Committee said: “By entrusting the holding of the Olympic Games to Beijing, you will contribute to the development of human rights.” Six years later, Reporters Without Borders has registered no lasting improvement in press freedom or online free expression. Foreign journalists obtained a temporary improvement in their status on 1 January but that will end in October. Strong pressure would have been needed to get the government to abandon the authoritarian and suspicious habits that make China one of the most backward countries for the international press.
China continues to be by far the world’s biggest prison for journalists, press freedom activists, cyber-dissidents and Internet users. Nearly 100 of them are serving sentences imposed without due process. Most of them are being held in terrible conditions. The journalist Shi Tao, for example, is forced to work in the prison where he is serving a 10-year sentence. How can you accept that Chinese who have campaigned for more freedom will have to impotently watch the world’s most important sports event from their cells?
China’s journalists continue to have to accept the dictates of the Propaganda Department, which imposes censorship on a wide range of subjects. The state maintains broad control of news and uses authoritarian laws to punish violators. Charges of subversion, divulging state secrets and espionage continue to rain down on journalists and editors working for the most liberal media. Self-censorship is the rule in editorial rooms. Chinese-language media based abroad are blocked, harassed or jammed, preventing the emergence of any media pluralism,
The laws governing the Internet have been made even tougher in the course of the past six years, turning the Chinese Internet into a space that is subject to surveillance and censorship. These restrictions also apply to foreign Internet companies.
We have never remained silent in the face of these massive free speech violations. In response to the situation’s urgency, we are this week launching a new international campaign on freedom violations in China. Like us, many human rights groups throughout the world are preparing for the 8 August rendez-vous in different ways. Activists plan to demonstrate in Beijing and elsewhere. Not out of hostility towards the Olympic Games, but to condemn the Chinese government’s refusal to keep its promises.
Athletes are already voicing their dismay about the situation in China, including the death penalty, the fate of Tibetans, religious persecution and censorship. Do not put sportsmen and sportswomen in a difficult situation by refusing to deal with the problem head-on. The companies that sponsor the Olympic Games are also liable to be put on the spot as result of news media putting human rights at the centre of their coverage of these Olympics.
Who will be able to say that the Olympic Games are a great sports event when thousands of prisoners of conscious are languishing in Chinese detention centres? Who is going to be able to believe in the 2008 Olympics slogan “One World, One Dream,” when Tibetan and Uyghur minorities are subject to serious discrimination?
If nothing is done, the Olympic Games will be marred by the tragic situation of freedoms in China. It is not reasonable to accuse human rights groups of taking the Olympic Games hostage. On the contrary, it is the Chinese government that has kidnapped the Olympic ideal along with this sports event. Our belief that this is the case is reinforced each day by the virulence of the authorities towards those who make a link between the Olympics and human rights. The cynicism of senior Chinese officials on all matters related to human rights requires a firm response.
You know better than anyone that the Chinese government and Communist Party attach the utmost importance to the success of the Olympic Games for their own sakes, but without keeping any of the promises they have made. Mr. President, it is not too late to get the Chinese organisers, who are for the most part also senior political officials, to release prisoners of conscience, reform repressive laws and end censorship. We expect firm action from you. It is time to say clearly to the Chinese authorities that the contempt with which they treat the international community is unacceptable.
With the entire Olympic community gathered in Guatemala City, it will no longer be a time for timid, whispered comments. The hour has come for the IOC, through you, to speak clearly about the problems. Your demands will be heard and the Olympic movement will emerge strengthened from it.
You know that the Olympic games have in the past been able to help establish freedoms in countries newly emerged from authoritarianism. Today, the absence of efforts by the IOC and the international community as regards China could dash these hopes. If nothing is said during the session in Guatemala City, the Olympic ideal will again be in danger of being led astray.
Reporters Without Borders knows the strength of sports when they are put at the service of peace and democracy. We have in the past participated in sports initiatives in Sarajevo and Kabul to promote this ideal. And we know how sensitive athletes are to matters affecting freedom. We see this each time journalists are taken hostage.
Mr. President, we do not doubt your commitment to freedom of expression. We believe that your convictions and those of the entire Olympic movement will enable you to quickly do what everyone is expecting of you - to take action on behalf of freedoms in China before the start of the 2008 Olympic Games.
We feel sure you will take account of our comments.