Reporters Without Borders gave a news conference today in Paris to unveil a series of new campaign initiatives aimed at the public, politicians, Olympic sponsors and journalists who are going to the Olympic Games in Beijing.
“With just over 100 days to go to the games, a key moment for the Olympic movement, we are campaigning to obtain the release of prisoners of conscience and free access to Tibet for the press,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said.
“The announcement of a possible resumption of dialogue with the Dalai Lama has raised hopes of a possible shift in the Chinese government’s position human rights, but we are not there yet,” Ménard continued. “Democratic heads of state, including President Nicolas Sarkozy, must threaten to boycott the opening ceremony in order to maintain the pressure.”
Reporter Florence Aubenas of the Paris-based Le Nouvel Observateur weekly, a former hostage in Iraq, appealed to her colleagues: “Journalists are not activists but they have a role to play before the Olympic Games,” she said. “We must be able to tell the Chinese authorities that we want to go to Tibet or to interview dissidents. All the press will want to talk about the sports events, but they will also want to talk about the other issues. The press must defend this right by taking a clearer stand.”
Aubenas presented an appeal to this effect that has already been signed by a dozen of leading European newspapers.
From left to right: Jean-Jacques Beineix, Robert Poirier, Robert Ménard, Sophie Vouzelaud and Nicola Sirkis
Filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix and Miss France 2007 runner-up Sophie Vouzelaud, who was born deaf, unveiled videos that use sign language to make the public and athletes more aware of human rights abuses in China. “As the Chinese authorities are deaf to the appeals of international public opinion and the International Olympic Committee prefers that athletes say nothing, we are going to use the sign language gesture for Freedom,” Beineix explained.
He showed four video clips that will be offered to TV stations in which Vouzelaud, writer Marek Alter and singer Nicola Sirkis, the leader of the French band Indochine, do the Freedom sign while a voice says: “The Chinese leaders are deaf to our appeals, so this is how you say Freedom in sign language.”
Vouzelaud said she was deeply committed to free expression and solidarity and supported the call for the release of prisoners of conscience in China. Sirkis announced that he was bringing out a single in support of the Reporters Without Borders campaign on China. “We are going to do a video and launch this single in order to participate in this campaign, which is entirely legitimate,” he said.
Robert Poirier, who is a former coach of the French athletics team and who participated as an athlete in the Tokyo and Mexico City games, said athletes “are also citizens” and urged them not to neglect the human rights situation in China and Tibet.
“The International Olympic Committee has been unable to create conditions in Beijing that will allow athletes to take part in the games in completely serenity,” he said. “The athletes must express - peacefully and respecting the Charter - their commitment to the values of freedom. I am sure they will find the words and the moments to show their commitment as citizens.”
Ménard also reported the results of an opinion poll about the Olympic sponsors. “A majority of French people agree that the sponsoring companies must defend human rights in China. Most of the people polled also said they were ready to boycott their products if nothing is done. These results show that the sponsors cannot stay silent.”