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Journalism impeded by surveillance of journalists, retaliation against Chinese sources; AP and Scandinavian journalists detained, harassed

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of an RSF press release:

2008 BEIJING GAMES
Crackdown continues for Chinese human rights activists, with no Olympic truce during games

The start of the Olympic Games has done nothing to help Chinese human rights activists, who continue to be arrested, watched or threatened. At the same time, incidents involving foreign journalists, including an attack on a British TV reporter working for ITN on 13 August 2008, shows that the security services are still preventing the foreign press from working freely.

To illustrate this, RSF offers the comments of a foreign reporter about surveillance and harassment by the Chinese police.

"In view of the many incidents, we call on the International Olympic Committee to intercede on behalf of the Chinese citizens who are in danger because of the position they have taken during the Olympic Games," RSF said.

"It is the duty of the Olympic movement in its entirety to ensure respect for the spirit of the Olympic truce," the organisation added. "Since the origins of the Olympics, tradition has required that peace should prevail during the games."

The IOC website has this to say about the Olympic truce in ancient Greece: "During the truce period, the athletes, artists and their families, as well as ordinary pilgrims, could travel in total safety to participate in or attend the Olympic Games and return afterwards to their respective countries. (. . .) The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to revive the ancient concept of the Olympic Truce with a view ( . . .) to encourage searching for peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts around the world."

On 13 August, John Ray of the British television news service ITN was covering a protest by several foreign activists who unfurled a pro-Tibet banner near Beijing's main Olympic zone, when he was arrested by police, dragged along the ground and forcibly restrained for about 20 minutes although he identified himself as a journalist. "This was an assault in my mind, I am incredibly angry about this," Ray told Agence France Presse.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) says there have been five incidents since 7 August. In one of these incidents, police arrested two Associated Press reporters in the northwestern province of Xinjiang and erased the photos they had taken. One of them was arrested while watching the opening ceremony on TV. Two Scandinavian journalists were prevented from interviewing peasants in Hebei province about the impact of the games on their activities.

A European journalist who has been working in Beijing for several years has given Reporters Without Borders a gripping description of what it is like for her and her colleagues in Beijing, and the risks run by Chinese who dare to speak to the foreign press.

"They don't stop following me, filming me and photographing me," she said. "I think twice before interviewing Chinese about sensitive issues for fear that they could be arrested (...) Last week several Chinese were arrested after giving me interviews. Firstly, people living in the Qianmen district that is in the process of being renovated. They included a woman in charge of an association of evicted residents who sued the government for not paying them enough compensation. The trial began in July but was postponed because of the Olympics. I interviewed her, as other journalists did. Since then she has been detained.

"The same thing happened with the pastor of an unrecognised church. Finally, a British woman of Tibetan origin was arrested and expelled after giving me an interview. Under these circumstances, we are all forced to censor ourselves and to refuse to interview certain Chinese for fear of their being immediately arrested. We are all in this situation of intimidation, which makes it very hard for us to work in China, despite the overall improvements." (. . .)

Other Chinese are being hounded by the authorities, who fear they could protest during the games. There has been no news since 7 August of Zeng Jinyan, the wife of imprisoned activist Hu Jia, and their seven-month-old daughter. Her mother in law said to several Chinese-language news outlets say she may has been forced her to leave the capital. She had been under permanent police surveillance for several years in the "Freedom" residential area where she lives.

Several members of the outlawed China Democracy Party were arrested in the days preceding the games opening ceremony. According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Xie Changfa of Hunan province was arrested on 2 August, while Wang Rongqing, 65, of Zhejiang province was arrested on 31 July. They have been charged with inciting subversion of state authority.

To read the full press release, see: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=28164

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