China breaching media freedoms before Olympics
A month before the Olympics, China continues to severely breach its pledge to allow full media freedoms, harassing and restricting foreign journalists in Tibet and elsewhere, Human Rights Watch said in a new report on Monday.
“Correspondents face severe difficulties in accessing forbidden zones, geographical areas and topics which the Chinese government considers sensitive and thus off-limits to foreign media,” said the HRW report, entitled “China’s Forbidden Zones: Shutting out of Tibet and other sensitive stories.”
As part of Beijing’s bid to host the Games it promised temporary regulations to allow complete media freedoms.
Around 25,000 foreign journalists are expected to cover the Beijing Games. The main press centre for the August 8-24 Games will be opened on Tuesday.
In addition to citing extensive examples of Chinese media abuses and restrictions including a media ban during the Tibet riots in March, the global rights group also criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for not doing more to ensure China lived up to its media and human rights pledges.
“The Chinese government, with the help of the International Olympic Committee, has done its best to impede progress,” Sophie Ms. Richardson, the Asia advocacy director at HRW, said in a statement.
“[The IOC] has said it prefers quiet diplomacy and in general we don’t have a problem with quiet diplomacy … the problem is when it’s so quiet as to be utterly inaudible,” Ms. Richardson added at a media briefing in Hong Kong.
HRW urged the IOC to establish a 24-hour hotline in Beijing for reporters during the Games to report media violations and to “publicly press the Chinese government to uphold” its temporary media freedom pledge until it expires in October.
The group urged Western leaders to speak out against abuses now, while they still had some leverage before the Games.
“I think if there isn’t more pressure now, it’s going to be very difficult to make any significant changes from the outside directed inward after the Games,” Ms. Richardson said.
While the reporting environment has improved for foreign journalists, the country has not relaxed its grip over domestic reporters.
PEN, an association founded to defend freedom of expression, said Sun Lin, a reporter in Nanjing in eastern China for U.S.-based news portal Boxun, was sentenced to four years in prison on June 27 for disturbing social order and illegal possession of firearms.
Authorities also detained or harassed several Chinese dissidents and rights activists to prevent them from meeting U.S. lawmakers visiting China in late June, PEN said in a statement.
The HRW report also documented intimidation of foreign reporters including death threats, the silencing of their Chinese sources as well as beatings of those pursuing sensitive stories.
Phelim Kine, an Asia researcher with HRW, wrote in the Wall Street Journal’s Asia edition on Monday that in future the IOC should incorporate a permanent human rights mechanism into the selection process for Olympic host cities.
Meanwhile, the Free Tibet Campaign said on Monday it would send out a pamphlet to all British athletes competing at the Games, to raise their awareness of Chinese rights abuses in Tibet and elsewhere, and called on them to show support during the Games for “the struggle of the Tibetan people.”
“British, and all other athletes must act as their consciences dictate. Of course we would love to see an athlete dedicate a medal to Tibet or appear in the stadium wearing a Free Tibet t-shirt,” Anne Holmes, the acting director of the Free Tibet Campaign, said in a statement.