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Beijing Olympics 17 March 2008

European parliamentarians to look into freedom of speech of Olympics athletes

ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders welcome the decision by the Council of Europe parliamentarians to look into freedom of speech of Olympic athletes and hold a public hearing on the issue.

Athletes, representatives of the IOC and the national Olympic committees concerned, as well as Chinese representatives, will be invited to the hearing, which is likely to take place during the Assembly’s forthcoming session (14-18 April).

“We are celebrating this year the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has provided strong protection for freedom of expression, universally acknowledged at the time, as it is today, to be a fundamental human right. We urge the European parliamentarians to take a strong stand against any restrictions imposed on European athletes on what they can say during the China Olympics.” ARTICLE 19 and Reporters without Borders said.

The two organisations added: “The decision taken by some national committees to prevent their athletes from speaking out on human rights abuses in China or elsewhere is unacceptable. It is a clear violation of the athletes’ freedom of expression, a right that belongs to everyone, everywhere.”

ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders have called on national Olympic committees to jointly undertake to impose no restrictions on their athletes’ freedom of speech when they are in Beijing, and urged the European Olympic committees to declare unambiguously that statements about human rights do not fall within the scope of Article 51(3) of the Olympic Charter. The two organisations have also hailed the initiatives taken by several Olympic committees such as those of Sweden and Norway, which are going to brief their athletes about the human rights situation in China.

Olympic athletes should not be deterred from giving sincere and honest responses to journalists’ questions or from making comments on the situation of human rights in China or other countries out of fear that those statements will affect their sports careers in any way. Athletes and NOCs need to understand this and that Article 51(3) in no way justifies restricting athletes’ right to make such statements.

Preventing athletes from talking about human rights abuses, contrary to their right to freedom of expression, violates the fundamental principles at the heart of the Olympic Charter, contradicts the spirit of the Olympic Games and amounts to condoning the human rights abuses committed by too many countries around the world, including China.

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