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Greece - Beijing Olympics29 May 2008

Trial of Reporters Without Borders protesters postponed until September

The trial of three Reporters Without Borders activists in Pyrgos for unfurling a flag with the Olympic rings transformed into handcuffs during the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in the nearby ancient site of Olympia on 24 March has been postponed because of a strike by Greek court clerks.

“This is a pity as we wanted to be tried quickly,” the press freedom organisation said. “We asked the court for the trial to be held straight away but it was not possible because of the clerks’ strike. Our case been postponed until 18 September.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We wanted to use this trial to reiterate that it is China, by imprisoning journalists and dissidents, that is responsible for all the protests that have taken place in the run-up to the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee would also have been on trial because it has put everyone in an untenable situation by failing to ask the Chinese authorities to keep their promises.”

Reporters Without Borders lawyer Jean Martin, who accompanied the organisation’s three representatives to Pyrgos, said the trial was important. “Can expressing an opinion constitute an insult and can it be punished?” Martin said. “It is serious if expressing an opinion can be subject nowadays to a criminal penalty. This is not China, this is Greece.”

The three Reporters Without Borders representatives who unfurled the organisation’s Beijing 2008 campaign flag during the torch-lighting ceremony included its secretary-general, Robert Ménard. They were immediately arrested and taken to a police station in Pyrgos, a town located 24 km from Olympia.

“Our protest did not aim to embarrass the Greek authorities,” Reporters Without Borders pointed out. “We just wanted to remind the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee of the commitments that were made regarding respect for human rights in China.”

China’s television interrupted its live coverage during the Reporters Without Borders protest and instead broadcast archive footage of Olympia. Greek television just suspended its live broadcast for a few seconds.

Reporters Without Borders is calling for a boycott by heads of state and government and members of royal families of the 8 August opening ceremony of the games.

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.

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. Self-censorship is the rule in news organisations. Independent Chinese-language media based abroad are blocked, harassed or jammed, preventing the emergence of diversity in news and information.

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