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Olympics "catastrophic" for journalists, says previously-imprisoned press freedom laureate

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

Olympics "Catastrophic" for Chinese Press Freedom

Paris, 18 April 2008 - A Chinese journalist jailed for her reporting told a conference in Paris today (Friday) that press freedom and human rights have worsened in China and that conditions for journalists in the run-up to the Olympics are "considerably more catastrophic" than they were when she was arrested 15 years ago.

"Freedom of the press and human rights constitute the most serious problem currently facing China," said Gao Yu, who was arrested in 1993 and sentenced to six years in prison for sending two articles on current affairs to a Hong Kong review. She was charged with "divulging state secrets", a catch-all charge often used by Chinese authorities to stifle independent reporting and dissent.

Ms Gao, speaking at the "Beijing Olympics 2008: Winning Press Freedom" conference, organised by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and a coalition of leading press freedom groups, said she too is an Olympic victim. Her arrest came weeks after China's failed bid to host the 2000 Olympics. It was her second jail term; she had previously served a 15-month sentence in 1989 for her coverage of the Beijing democracy movement.

She compared her case to that of Hu Jia, a human rights campaigner and citizen journalist who was sentenced to three years in prison earlier this month. "As the Olympic Games approach, this case demonstrates in a terribly emblematic fashion the position of the Communist Party in confrontation with freedom of expression," she said. "It also shows the riposte of the Chinese authorities to the demands of the international community."

Despite promises of reform made ahead of the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese authorities have not only failed to respect them, but they have intensified their crackdown on journalists and others who seek to exercise their right to freedom of expression. Foreign journalists now reporting from China in the run up to the Olympics are regularly harassed and even expelled, as was the case during the March 2008 events in Tibet. This violates the Organising Committee for the Beijing Olympic Games pledge that foreign media would have "complete freedom to report when they come to China".

Ms Gao, the 1995 laureate of the WAN Golden Pen of Freedom and the first laureate, in 1997, of UNESCO's World Press Freedom Prize, said: "At the approach of the Olympic Games, all Chinese who have suffered oppression hope to be able to utilise the occasion to seek justice; the international community hopes that the Chinese government will improve the situation of the press and human rights in line with the promise made in 2001.

"But the Chinese authorities see these internal and external pressures as 'politisation' of the Olympic Games. Unhappily, counterattacking against these criticisms by repressing the freedom of the press only underlines this contradiction."

(. . .)

"The experience of China and the Olympics is, in fact, yet one more example of the terrible naivety and short-sightedness of those in leadership of our governments, our sports organisations and our businesses as they deal with repressive regimes like the one in place in Beijing," said Timothy Balding, CEO of WAN, who opened the session featuring Ms Gao.

"History, if nothing else, amply demonstrates that dictators do not voluntarily and spontaneously give up power, do not loosen the chains, do not remove the gags, after sudden illumination and conversion to belief in freedom and other human rights. They do so when they are forced to, generally through a combination of intense internal opposition and dissent," he said.

(. . . )

WAN is conducting an international campaign, in the run-up to the Olympics, to hold China to the promises it made in its successful Olympic bid to improve the press freedom and human rights conditions in the country. As part of this campaign, WAN has produced a package of materials - cartoons, advertisements, articles, photos and infographics - for publication in thousands of newspapers worldwide on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. The materials are available, without charge, at http://www.worldpressfreedomday.org

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 complete press release, see: http://www.wan-press.org/article16975.html

For further information on Gao Yu's imprisonment, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/7505

For further information on the Hu Jia case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92643

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