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Disturbing new regulations imposed prior to Olympic Games, efforts to control media increased in Sichuan

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the introduction of new rules aimed at reinforcing controls over Chinese "fixers" working for foreign journalists and over all foreigners visiting China during the Olympic Games. The organisation also condemns an increase in police controls of foreign journalists trying to cover protests by parents whose children were killed when schools collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake.

"Any hope of seeing China calmly open up ahead of the Olympic Games is gradually vanishing," Reporters Without Borders said. "The authorities have introduced regulations hostile to foreigners, who are suspected of wanting to disrupt the games, and are trying to impose greater controls on Chinese citizens working for foreign reporters. And, on the Propaganda Department's initiative, the government is restricting the work of the Chinese and international press in Sichuan."

"These measures, just two months ahead of the inauguration of the Beijing games, are bordering on paranoia and are a long way from the One World, One Dream slogan. We urge the International Olympic Committee to put pressure on the government to rescind some of these provisions and to ensure that the international press can work freely in Sichuan."

Reporters Without Borders added: "So far, the IOC has not reacted to these archaic regulations, preferring to issue a memo in May reminding national Olympic committees that their athletes should under no circumstances demonstrate at Olympic sites."

Chinese citizens working for foreign news media must now comply with new rules designed to get them to register with the authorities. Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of the new rules, which were distributed by the CIECCO, a state entity that is supposed to help foreign companies, including news media, to find Chinese employees.

The Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) has been insisting since January 2007 that the foreign media recruit professionals chosen by official intermediaries as translators. The latest rules want all Chinese working for the foreign media to be registered and suggest that the authorities should "select and name appropriate candidates" for the foreign media.

If foreign journalists want to propose their own candidates, they must provide an ID, a curriculum vitae, evidence of no criminal record and a medical certificate. And a contract must be signed between employer and employee.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China told Reporters Without Borders that "hiring and registering assistants through government service agencies potentially increases bureaucracy, expense and oversight by the authorities." The FCCC hopes the foreign media will eventually be able to hire Chinese as journalists, photographers or cameramen, but for the time being that is not allowed.

Reporters Without Borders has also learned of a directive issued by the BOCOG media centre's visa division telling journalists to submit precise information about coverage plans in China, including the places they want to visit and the people they want to interview, in order to obtain a J-2 visa, which is for media personnel who want to arrive before the 8 August 2008 start of the games. The BOCOG also requires a letter from an employer, which effectively eliminates freelancers.

These new provisions come at a time when the issuing of multiple-entry visas is being restricted and obtaining tourist or business visas is taking much longer, even through Hong Kong. The government refuses to explain this tougher policy, which seems to be linked to fear of demonstrations during the games.

The BOCOG issued a set of guidelines for foreigners visiting the games on 2 June. In a question-and-answer format and so far only in Chinese, the guidelines tell foreigners they "must respect Chinese laws while in China and must not harm China's national security or damage the social order."

They say "terrorists," sex workers, drug traffickers, people suffering from AIDS or tuberculosis and "subversives" are banned from entering China. Some of the guidelines directly target those who would like to demonstrate during the games. "Public gatherings, marches and demonstrations cannot take place without prior permission from the police." They also restrict freedom of opinion, forbidding foreigners from bringing with them documents, disks or audio recordings critical of China.

Because of the anger of the parents of children killed in schools in Sichuan, the authorities have tended to obstruct the work of the foreign media in the province. On 6 June, two Agence France-Presse journalists were prevented from entered Wufu, a city where demonstrations took place after a primary school collapsed.

Foreign reporters were briefly detained and expelled on 5 June from Juyuan and Hanwang, two towns where schools collapsed. Photographers were removed from a demonstration by about 100 parents in Dujiangyan on 3 June, and a reporter and photographer from the Japanese news agency Kyodo were detained for several hours. According to the FCCC, two Dutch journalists were stopped by the police when they tried to go to Dujiangyan.

The Chinese press has been forbidden to cover the collapsed schools story freely. Chinese journalists told the "New York Times" that the order came from Beijing. The website of the Hong Kong-based China Media Project ( http://cmp.hku.hk ) reported that the Guangdong province Communist Party's propaganda chief ordered the local media to pull their journalists out of Sichuan. The site also reported that Li Changchun, the Communist Party's propaganda chief, went to Sichuan.

The public security department has been told to put a stop to the "illegal gatherings" and to pressure the families of victims to stop talking to the foreign press. State media propaganda continues to praise the government's efforts. State-owned CCTV's website even went so far as to portray a demonstration in homage to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 4 June 1989 as an homage to the victims of the 12 May earthquake.

Finally, BOCOG intransigence on security issues is giving rise to tension with international TV stations that acquired broadcasting rights. The Associated Press reported on 8 June that there were angry tensions at a meeting in Beijing at the end of May between the BOCOG, the IOC and international TV stations over China's refusal to permit live coverage of events in certain places such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and delays in granting permission for broadcast equipment.

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