With exactly one month left before the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing, Reporters Without Borders today condemned the absence of a goodwill gesture from the Chinese government as regards the approximately 100 imprisoned journalists, Internet users and cyber-dissidents.
“Do the Chinese authorities really think they are going to turn these games into an international success by stubbornly refusing to free prisoners of conscience and by gagging freedom of expression,” asked the press freedom organisation, which has been campaigning on this issue since 2001.
Reporters Without Borders is calling for demonstrations outside Chinese embassies during the opening ceremony. It is also organising a cyber-demonstration on its website (www.rsf.org) on the opening day.
“The occasional good news, such as the unblocking of access to certain foreign websites and the reopening of Tibet, have been eclipsed by a series of outrageous arrests and increased surveillance of human rights activists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Olympic infrastructure is in place, but police controls have been stepped up, the Internet is still censored, international radio stations are jammed and Beijing’s air is still polluted.”
“All these topics are banned in the Chinese press,” the organisation added. “And the luxury of the Olympic Press Centre that was inaugurated today in Beijing will not help foreign journalists to forget how precarious their rights are when they try to probe sensitive issues,”
Even the resumption of contacts with the Dalai Lama’s representatives is already being seen as a failure as the Chinese authorities are imposing an extravagant list of preconditions for any real dialogue. One of the Tibetan negotiators said on his return from China last week: “Before the Olympics it is not feasible to hold talks... they are obsessed with the Olympics.” The meeting was staged solely for the sake of the Olympics and to satisfy certain foreign countries, he added.
Much of the blame for the present crisis lies with the International Olympic Committee. By closing its eyes to the Chinese government’s repressive policies, the IOC has negated the “positive effect” that the games were supposed to have on human rights in China. The existence of around 10 “Olympic prisoners” such as Hu Jia and Yang Chunlin, who were arrested just for talking about the games, is proof of this.
It is not too late for the world sports movement to speak out on behalf of free expression. The Olympic Charter says that sport should contribute to “the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
The relatives of certain imprisoned activists have been calling for a goodwill gesture from the Chinese authorities in the run-up to the games. Xinna, the wife of ethnic Mongolian publisher Hada, who has been detained for the past 13 years, this week appealed to the Chinese government to free her husband in a show of respect of human rights.
Reporters Without Borders has been calling for the past few months for a boycott of the 8 August opening ceremony by heads of state, heads of government and members of royal families.
So far, the government representatives who have announced their acceptance of the Chinese president’s invitation to attend are the king of Cambodia, the presidents of Afghanistan, Croatia, Mauritius, South Korea, Switzerland, United States and Vietnam, the prime ministers of Australia, Finland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands and Thailand, the Spanish foreign minister, the Indian minister of sports and Belgium’s Crown Prince Philippe.
The governments of Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, New Zealand and Poland have announced they will send no representative to the opening ceremony. Britain’s Prince Charles has said he will not go to Beijing while its prime minister will attend only the closing ceremony.
The French president will reportedly tell his Chinese counterpart tomorrow whether he will attend.