Members of Reporters Without Borders, including its secretary-general Robert Ménard, demonstrated peacefully during the Olympic torch relay this morning in Nagano, in central Japan. Wearing the Beijing 2008 campaign T-shirts, they unfurled some flags showing the Olympic rings in the form of handcuffs. Activists who support the cause of Darfur and human rights in North Korea accompanied Reporters Without Borders.
Before staging their demonstration, the Reporters Without Borders members participated in a collective prayer for the victims of repression in Tibet at Nagano’s Zenkoji Buddhist temple, whose leaders refused to host the start of today’s relay run.
At a news conference he gave yesterday in Tokyo, Ménard was asked about the Chinese government’s announcement of a possible resumption of dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s envoys. "This is a first step towards a more open attitude on human rights, but we are waiting for concrete progress including the release of prisoners of conscience," he said.
"If there are serious discussions on human rights tomorrow, we will stop demonstrating," Ménard said. "We are not demonstrating for the pleasure of demonstrating. The Chinese are by no means immune to external pressure, as recent events have shown. We must maintain the pressure in order to obtain results before the start of the Olympic Games."
Pointing out that the demonstrations were not targeted at the Chinese people but at the government in Beijing, Ménard stressed that Reporters Without Borders is "an apolitical organisation whose aim, in this campaign, is to defend freedom of expression in China."
"We call on Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to intercede with the Chinese authorities in various ways including by giving them a list of prisoners of conscience who must be quickly released ," Ménard continued. "If they are not released by 8 August, Yasuo Fukuda should not go to Beijing for the opening ceremony."
Ménard began the news conference by pay tribute to Japanese reporter Kenji Nagai, who was killed by a Burmese soldier in Rangoon in September 2007. "Burma, whose staunchest international ally is China, must account for the death of this journalist," he said. On his arrival in Japan, Ménard was made to sign a statement undertaking to respect Japanese laws. He was followed by plain-clothes policemen throughout his stay.