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Beijing Olympics 26 March 2008

Reporters Without Borders demonstrates in Olympia at start of Olympic torch relay to Beijing

Three Reporters Without Borders representatives, including secretary-general Robert Ménard, on March 24th unfurled some banners showing the Olympic rings transformed into handcuffs at the official Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Olympia, in Greece. They were immediately seized by the security forces before being taken to a police station in Pyrgos.

"The Olympic flame may be sacred but human rights are even more so," the press freedom organisation said. "We could not let the Chinese government take the Olympic flame, a symbol of peace, without denouncing the dramatic human rights situation in China with less than five months to go to the start of the Olympic Games."

Reporters Without Borders added : "The treatment reserved in China for those who express themselves freely, the censorship imposed on the press and the news blackout in Tibet demand this sort of protest. All possible means must now be used to condemn the serious violations of basic freedoms in China. We will protest whenever we can."

"What we did was not intended to embarrass the Greek authorities," the organisation said. "We just want to remind the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee of the promises made on respecting human rights in China".

Chinese television interrupted its coverage of the ceremony during the intervention by Reporters Without Borders’ activists, replacing it with archive footage of the Olympic site. Greek television simply broke off its live broadcast for a few moments.

Ten hours after their arrest, the three Reporters Without Borders representatives have been freed on bail pending trial on 29 May in Pyrgos. They are charged with "insulting national symbols" under article 361 of the Greek criminal code, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison or a fine.

"This is an absurd and senseless charge," Reporters Without Borders said. "By making this gesture, we were in no way attacking the Olympic spirit or Greece. We were simply protesting against the policy being carried out in China during this period of heightened repression."

Reporters Without Borders is also calling on heads of state, heads of government and members of royal families to boycott the 8 August opening ceremony of the Beijing games. Read the press release.

Around 100 journalists, Internet users and cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned in China just for expressing their views peacefully. Journalists have been banned from visiting Tibet since 12 March and have been expelled from neighbouring provinces. The crackdown on protests by Tibetans is taking place out of sight.

A poll published sponsored by Reporters Without Borders found that 53 percent of respondents liked the idea of President Nicolas Sarkozy skipping the opening ceremony. Read the full poll.

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