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CHINA: RACE TO TAKE ACTION FOR FREE EXPRESSION AHEAD OF BEIJING GAMES

One hundred journalists and cyber-dissidents still in jail. Foreign journalists blocked and threatened despite Beijing's repeated promises to give them "complete freedom" ahead of the Olympics - both in Tibet and the earthquake-hit areas in Sichuan. Ongoing censorship online and elsewhere. With just one month left to the Beijing Games, IFEX members are asking that you turn up the heat and speak up for free expression in China. Find out what you can do now to add your voice to the protests.

While Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is continuing to call on world leaders and heads of state to boycott the opening ceremonies - rumour has it that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is reneging on his earlier vow that he'd attend only if the Chinese engaged in real dialogue with the Dalai Lama - they're also organising for the masses. RSF is urging you to turn away from your TV and march outside Chinese embassies on 8 August. For the real couch potato, protest online with RSF's cyber-demo on the same day. See: http://www.rsf.org

RSF, along with IFEX members the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have already joined the global appeal for the release of the Chinese "POC (Prisoners of Conscience) 8" before lucky 08/08/08 - the day of the opening ceremonies. IFEX members have lobbied for all eight, particularly, Shi Tao and Hu Jia. Get out your pen and address your letter to the Chinese ambassador or consul where you live. Check out the video call here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35DmnlIJlJU and download ready-made letters here: http://www.visual-artists-guild.org/

Follow the poem instead of the torch with International PEN's poem relay: hear the poem "June" by Shi Tao, translated into more than 90 languages, including Tibetan: http://www.penpoemrelay.org/

Then check out International PEN's We Are Ready for Freedom of Expression campaign and read up on all of the 44 journalists and writers in jail. There's still time to sign the petition to the Chinese government calling for their release: http://www.pen.org/page.php/prmID/1527

More than 30,000 foreign journalists are expected at the Games - three hacks for every athlete. So IFJ has teamed up with the sports political organisation Play the Game to launch Play the Game for Open Journalism, a website for those reporters heading to China who don't know how freely they'll be able to do their job. Get tips and tricks on how to report in Beijing (including from local journalists!), from what the sensitive topics are and how to broach them, to working with local assistants and protecting your sources. Got tips of your own? Be sure to upload them on the site in the discussion forums. It's all here: http://www.playthegameforopenjournalism.org

Appreciating that knowing your rights is essential and that access to websites may be censored, Human Rights Watch and CPJ have published a pocket-sized survival guide - ideal for your plane journey. If you don't have enough time to order it, the "Reporters' Guide to Covering the Beijing Olympics" can be downloaded free at: http://china.hrw.org/ and will also soon be available in French, German, Spanish and Japanese. It includes an English/Chinese version of the temporary regulations, which can be shown to officials questioning reporters in the field.

For those journalists who still end up at the receiving end of the authorities' wrath because of their work, IFJ has also unveiled a helpline for emergency assistance and advice. The 10,000 of you expected to descend on Beijing without accreditation would be smart to keep this number handy: + 32 475 76 13 92 . Lines are open from 20 July to 31 August.

Still need convincing? Read Human Rights Watch's hot-off-the-press report, "China's Forbidden Zones: Shutting the Media out of Tibet and other 'Sensitive' Stories", at: http://hrw.org/reports/2008/china0708/ . The report is based on interviews with more than 60 foreign correspondents that were in China AFTER the authorities promised to lift media freedom restrictions in the run-up to the Olympics. The findings? The Chinese government - with the help of the International Olympic Committee - has done its best to impede progress.

Three International PEN centres - the Independent Chinese PEN Center, PEN American Center and PEN Canada - say free expression in China has deteriorated so substantially over the past year "in full view of the international community" that there are more writers and journalists in Chinese prisons than there were seven months ago. Read "Failing to Deliver: An Olympic-Year Report Card on Free Expression in China", at: http://www.pen.org/chinareport

Get confirmation in CPJ's updated report "Falling Short", which outlines China's failure to meet its media pledges: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2007/Falling_Short/China/index.html

Then keep abreast of the latest developments by subscribing to IFJ's monthly press freedom report: ifjchina (@) ifj-asia.org

Now spread the word. The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has got a slew of stories, cartoons, graphs and pictures on the Olympic Challenge of freeing the press in China. They're free for the taking here: http://worldpressfreedomday.org/

(Photo courtesy of WAN at http://worldpressfreedomday.org)

(9 July 2008)

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