Reporters Without Borders has recorded 24 cases of journalists, cyber-dissidents or free expression activists being arrested or sentenced to jail terms since the start of the year. At the same time, at least 80 foreign journalists have been obstructed in the course of their work, above all in the Tibetan regions and in Sichuan.
"Where is the opening so often promised by the organisers of the Beijing Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee?" the press freedom organisation asked. "Instead of an opening, these games are being used, more than ever, as a pretext to arrest, harass and censor. This situation is unacceptable and reflects the IOC’s inability to guarantee a favourable environment for the games in accordance with the Olympic Charter."
Last year ended badly with the arrest of leading activist Hu Jia in late December, and the start of this year was marked by his sentence to three and a half years in prison. But at least 23 other journalists, online writers and free speech activists have been arrested or sentenced to prison terms.
The authorities have made some concessions, such as the release of Ching Cheong and Yu Huafeng, but they have taken no account of the fact that the health of Zhang Jianhong, a writer better known as Li Hong, and Yang Maodong, a writer better known Guo Feixiong, has deteriorated in prison.
The terrible earthquake in Sichuan has not helped to reduce the repression either. Journalist Qi Chonghuai was sentenced to four years in prison the day after the quake. And Huang Qi, a well-known activist who has a human rights website, was arrested on 10 June for reporting the arrest of a person who had been writing accounts of the quake and its aftermath.
The harassment of activists who talk to the foreign news media or write articles for overseas Chinese media has also been stepped up. This campaign is being orchestrated by the public security and state security departments in order to intimidate human rights activists who might try to speak out before or during the games.
Reporters Without Borders’ chief demand, as regards the Beijing Olympics, has always been the release of imprisoned journalists, cyber-dissidents and free expression activists before the start of the games.