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Freedom of expression activists denied entry to international conference

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is an abridged WAN press release:

Freedom of Expression in Hong Kong? Hong Kong Conference Participants Denied Entry, International Organisations Condemn Government's Decision

Organisers of a major conference in Hong Kong on freedom of expression in China today (Wednesday) condemned a decision by the Hong Kong government to deny entry to a noted editor and to Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot, whose "Pillar of Shame" is a memorial to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The organisers, including the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, said that Zhang Yu, a Swedish-based editor and coordinator of the Writers in Prison Committee of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, and Mr. Galschiot and two of his colleagues, were denied entry to Hong Kong to participate in the "One Dream: Free Expression in China" conference.

It was the third time that Mr. Zhang, who holds a valid Chinese passport, has been denied entry to his homeland since February 2007, based on an oral decision for "activism" allegedly endangering national security because of his PEN activities.

"To close Hong Kong's borders to people who were invited to participate in an international conference is further evidence that freedom of expression is under attack and discussion about China's policies is unwelcome," said Timothy Balding, CEO of WAN. "It also serves notice to those who believe that Hong Kong's freedoms will have a positive influence on China, or that 'engagement' with China will magically convince the authorities to change their practices."

The conference, from 30 April through 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, coincides with the Olympic Torch Relay through Hong Kong. (. . . )

China, which remains the world's biggest jailer of journalists, promised in its successful Olympic bid to ensure greater freedom of expression. Conference organisers called on the authorities to honour their commitments.

Despite new regulations promulgated last year to ease the stringent restrictions on news coverage in China, reporters continue to be deterred from exercising their rights. Telephone connections to reporters' sources have either been disconnected or the sources have been intimidated. There have been restrictions on travel and movement, as well as physical harassment.

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom and the professional and business interests of newspapers world-wide. Representing 18,000 newspapers, its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups.

For the full press release, see: http://www.wan-press.org/

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