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China 29 November 2007

Open letter to Jacques Rogge, President of International Olympic Committee

Open letter

Mr. Jacques Rogge President International Olympic Committee Lausanne, Switzerland

Paris, 29 November 2007

Dear Mr. Rogge,

We are receiving extremely disturbing reports from China about the way the authorities are preparing for the arrival of tens of thousands for journalists and media workers for the Beijing Olympic Games.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that the organisers of the Beijing Olympics and the Chinese security apparatus have decided to control journalists very closely before and during the games. The authorities said, for example, that they were planning to compile files on journalists and reserved the right to turn them back even if they were accredited by National Olympic Committees.

You must be aware that the games organisers announced that they were going to conduct ID checks on all accredited journalists. Yang Minghui, the deputy head of the games accreditation office, defended this decision as a security requirement, as if journalists could pose a threat or be potential terrorists. "If they do not pass the tests, their accreditation requests will be refused and the process will stop there," he said, adding that "the aim is to eliminate people who pose problems for the security of the games."

Other Olympic cities compiled files on journalists in the past, but this was for organisational purposes and never with the intention of refusing entry on grounds which - as everyone must realize in the case of Beijing - are political.

The announcement followed an earlier one by the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) that it was going to compile files on the approximately 30,000 journalists coming to the games. A GAPP representative said the purpose was to identify "fake journalists" and to help Chinese officials respond to interview requests. But the government has not said what kind of information will be gathered.

In recent months, there have been several leaks in the media about the instructions given to the public security and state security departments as regards identifying groups in China and abroad that are likely to want to demonstrate during the games. Journalists could also be targeted by this preventive surveillance and it is possible that hundreds of people will be banned from entering China.

Reporters Without Borders hailed the adoption of new rules for the foreign press last January. But, 11 months later, the results are negative. It is true that the foreign ministry has in some cases tried to help foreign journalists who had been detained or attacked, but we have registered more than 50 cases clearly showing that the authorities are not respecting the new rules.

Barbara Lüthi, the Beijing correspondent of the Swiss TV channel Schweizer Fernsehen, and her Chinese camerawoman were, for example, recently hit and detained for seven hours by the authorities in Shengyou, a village in Hebei province where unrest led to the deaths of several residents in 2005. At least five foreign journalists have been prevented from working in this village, located near Beijing, in recent months.

Mathias Brascheler and Monika Fisher, a Swiss husband-and-wife team of photographers, were recently detained for three hours in Wuchang, in Hubei province, while preparing a report on villagers who had been threatened and beaten in connection with a land dispute.

Even more serious is the fact that Chinese journalists and dissidents continue to fall victim to repression. For example, cyber-dissident Yang Maodong, who is better known by the pseudonym of Guo Feixiong, was sentenced to five years in prison and a heavy fine in mid-November for publishing a book without permission. Cyber-dissident and blogger He Weihua was confined against his will to a psychiatric hospital in Hunan in August. Relatives told Reporters Without Borders he has no mental illness whatsoever and that the real reason for this measure was the articles he had posted on his blog, www.boxun.com/hero/hewh/. In all, about 100 journalists, cyber-dissidents and human rights activists are currently detained in China.

Human rights organisations are noting an increase in political repression. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, the number of trials on a charge of "jeopardising state security" has doubled from last year to this. Quoting officials sources, the foundations says no fewer than 600 people have arrested on this charge.

As you know, those targeted also include people who provide the outside world with information about political repression. Three Tibetans have just been sentenced by a court in Kardze, in Sichuan province (adjoining Tibet), to prison sentences ranging from three to ten years for "espionage for foreign organisations endangering state security." Their crime was to have sent abroad photos of demonstrations by Tibetan nomads in early August.

We also deplore the often disturbing level of propaganda and nationalist fervour surrounding the preparations for the Olympic Games. On 19 November, for example, the government newspaper Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times) attacked foreign news media that "spread rumours to destabilise the government," citing the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Die Welt, Associated Press and Voice of America. Mentioning Reporters Without Borders, it also criticised NGOs that keep relaying "prejudices" about China.

Similarly, in the past month the Propaganda Department sent a written directive to the leading Chinese news media asking them to avoid publishing "negative" stories on matters affecting the games such as air pollution, a dispute over Taiwan’s inclusion in the Olympic torch relay, and public health issues.

It was expected that the foreign news media would be allowed greater access to the Chinese market before the Olympic Games. Instead, the government has maintained its monopoly of the sale of news to Chinese media, depriving foreign news agencies of potential clients. In response to questions by the European Union, Canada, Japan and the United States before the Word Trade Organisation, China said on 12 November that it had not signed any provision requiring it to open up the business news market. When the state news agency Xinhua’s control over the distribution of foreign news agency content was reinforced in September 2006, we described Xinhua as a predator of free enterprise and the freedom to report the news.

This is not the first time that we have written to you, Mr. Rogge, to ask you to speak out and take action on behalf of press freedom in China. You have never replied directly, letting other IOC members argue that your organisation does not concern itself with political matters. We have met IOC officials in Lausanne, but no concrete measures for the press ensued.

The organisation you head is constantly trumpeting the progress being made with the work on the Beijing games infrastructure but it has not made any public statement of concern about the lack of freedom of expression, which will undermine the work of the media and the transparency that is needed for the games.

Mr. Rogge, it is your silence that has unfortunately made all these abuses possible. We continue to think that the IOC should do everything it can to influence the policies of the Beijing games organisers towards Chinese and foreign journalists. A failure to rise to this key challenge would represent an enormous setback in the history of the Olympic movement.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Robert Ménard Secretary-General




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