Media freedom organization PEN is giving China a failing grade on free expression one month before the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Conditions for both international and Chinese journalists have deteriorated between December 2007 and June 2008, according to a report released Tuesday by PEN Canada, the PEN American Centre, and the Independent Chinese PEN Centre.

“There were very specific promises that were made by the Chinese government when they were awarded the Olympics in 2001,” Marion Botsford Fraser, a representative of PEN Canada, told CBC News in an interview.

“They made very clear promises to improve human rights for their own citizens and also not to limit media coverage in the time leading up to the games and during the games.”

But in the months leading up to the Olympics, which begin Aug. 8, China has cracked down heavily on free expression over the internet, she said.

More than 40 journalists and writers were in jail in December 2007 and 44 are in jail today, according to the report. PEN is following the cases of an additional eight journalists, Botsford Fraser said.

“Unfortunately, it was never the intention of the Chinese government to protect or relieve the situation for its own journalists during the Olympic period,” she said.

Following people around

“There is an enormous amount of harassment and tracking people and following people around,” she added. “There was a case a week ago where a couple of Chinese journalists and human rights lawyers were supposed to be meeting with U.S. Congressmen and they were detained on the way to the meeting.”

Foreign journalists also are not experiencing the opening up that China promised, despite a move to allow freer movement of journalists as China recovered from the Shandong earthquake.

“A window opened very briefly right after the earthquake when the story was about the tragedy of the earthquake and the enormous efficiency of the Chinese government in getting in there and actually doing something to help people,” Botsford Fraser said.

“But when journalists wanted to write about the role of corruption in the collapse of buildings, China withdrew those privileges.”

China’s promises to allow media to report freely throughout China have also been undermined by its attempts to manage international coverage from Tibet, the PEN report found.

The report calls on the Chinese government to:

Release all writers and journalists currently imprisoned. Stop detaining, harassing, and censoring writers and journalists.     End internet censorship. Reform laws that are being used to suppress freedom of expression.  Abide by its pledge that “there will be no restrictions on media reporting and movement of journalists up to and including the Olympic Games.”

PEN is also urging foreign governments to put pressure on the Chinese government over freedom of expression and detention of journalists during the Olympic games.