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Beijing Olympics 8 April 2008

Open letter to President Bush on eve of Olympic torch relay in San Francisco

The Honourable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington DC

Paris, 8 April 2008

Dear Mr. President,

On the eve of the Olympic torch relay on US territory, we would like to ask you not to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games on 8 August. Or rather, we believe you should tell the Chinese authorities now that you are setting conditions on your presence at this ceremony, which is the political event of these Olympics.

A total boycott of the Olympic Games by athletes is not the solution, but we are convinced that, in view of the massive and growing violations of human rights in China and Tibet, it is essential that the heads of state and government of democratic countries threaten to stay away from the 8 August ceremony in Beijing.

Several presidents and government ministers, including those of US allies in Europe, have announced that they will not go to this opening ceremony.

As you know, China has not kept the promises it gave in 2001 when it was chosen to host these Olympics. On the contrary, the government is using violence to crack down on Tibetan demonstrations and is imposing a news blackout. Even in Beijing, leading dissident Hu Jia has just been sentenced to three and a half years in prison after a summary trial.

Mr. President, if you now announce your intention not to be in Beijing on 8 August, the Chinese authorities will not be able to ignore your appeals for the release of political prisoners and the opening of a dialogue on Tibet.

As you know, the only improvement in press freedom seen in China had been the relaxation in January 2007 of the rules for foreign journalists working there. But the news blackout imposed on Tibet and the expulsion of visiting foreign reporters have negated the effect of this measure.

We also urge you to ask the International Olympic Committee to use its influence. The IOC is obviously not intended to be a political tool, but it is the guarantor of the Olympic spirit and it cannot continue to display the same passivity it has been showing up to now in the face of such egregious violations of a people’s fundamental rights.

Reporters Without Borders would like to point out that about 100 journalists, Internet users and cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned in China just for expressing their views peacefully.

Chinese journalists continue to be subject to the dictates of the Publicity Department (the former Propaganda Department), which imposes censorship on a wide range of subjects. The government and party continue to control news and information and have authoritarian laws to punish violators. Charges of subversion, disseminating state secrets or spying are often brought against journalists and cyber-dissidents. Independent Chinese-language media based in other countries such as the United States are blocked, harassed or jammed.

We hope that the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco will encourage the United States to reaffirm its position in support of human rights in China and we hope that you will take account of our requests.


Robert Ménard

In this country
3 June - China
“Tank Man” photo displayed outside Chinese embassy in Paris on eve of Tiananmen Square massacre
2 June - China
All references to Tiananmen Square massacre closely censored for 20 years
12 May - China
Foreign reporters prevented from working in Sichuan a year after earthquake
24 April - China
Concern that detained Tibetan magazine editor is being tortured
25 March - China
Government blocks access to YouTube

in the annual report
China - Annual report 2008
China - Annual report 2007
China - Annual report 2006

4 May 2009 - Nepal
Mission report : A call to end violence and impunity
2 April 2009 - Pakistan
Fact-finding visit by Reporters Without Borders to Swat “valley of fear”
16 March 2009 - Afghanistan
Report of fact-finding mission : Press freedom in free-fall in run-up to presidential election

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Asia press releases
3 June - North Korea
Pyongyang judges asked to be lenient with two American journalists
3 June - Afghanistan
US forces arrest a journalist in Khost
2 June - China
Blocking of Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Blogger deprives Chinese of Web 2.0
2 June - Sri Lanka
Press freedom activist badly beaten in Colombo, hospitalised
29 May - Sri Lanka
Journalists trying to cover fate of Tamils are threatened, obstructed