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Chinese police temporarily detained about a dozen journalists yesterday after they covered a Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) press conference demanding greater press freedom in China ahead of next year's Olympics.

Four members of RSF flew in from Europe to hold their first-ever press conference in China, outside the headquarters of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games.

According to press reports, uniformed and plainclothes police moved in after the conference and refused to allow journalists to leave. Some cameramen were asked to turn over their tapes, but refused. The group was released after almost two hours.

In 2001, when China successfully bid for the 2008 Olympics, it said reporters would have "complete freedom to report." But RSF and other IFEX members the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Human Rights Watch say that hasn't happened.

"The official slogan, 'One world, one dream,' sounds more and more hollow," RSF says. "Beijing has not kept its promises to improve the human rights situation and yet continues cynically to refer to the Olympic spirit."

Wearing t-shirts showing the Olympic rings made up of handcuffs, RSF staff called for the release of the 100 journalists, cyber-dissidents and free speech activists now in Chinese jails, an end to Internet censorship - at least 12 websites were closed or blocked in July alone - and the ability for foreign correspondents to move about China freely. RSF also urged International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who has so far remained silent on China's human rights record, to hold the Olympic host to its promise.

With one year left before the Olympics begin, IFEX members are using the occasion to draw attention to China's lax human rights record.

Since 1 January, the Chinese government has given greater freedom to foreign journalists, while domestic reporters still face severe restrictions, in the run up to the Olympics, allowing them to cover China's "political, economic, social and cultural matters" and to travel widely without government permission. The regulations will cease to apply in October 2008, once the Beijing Games are over.

But several foreign reporters have been told there are still certain areas they cannot visit and sensitive subjects they cannot cover, including Tibet, or villages of HIV-AIDS sufferers in Henan province and along China's border with North Korea, says Human Rights Watch, who has been documenting cases of harassed and detained journalists.

"The ongoing harassment and detention of journalists makes Beijing's Olympic pledge on media freedoms seem more like a public relations ploy than a sincere policy initiative," says Human Rights Watch.

CPJ was planning to hold its press conference in Beijing on 7 August to launch its 80-page report, "Falling Short," which also criticises China's slow progress in applying "no restrictions" on media coverage. According to CPJ, China already jails more journalists than any other country in the world, with at least 29 known cases of journalists currently imprisoned for their work. The comprehensive report includes biographies of each of the jailed journalists, as well as tips for reporters on the ground and English translations of Chinese media laws.

Read the reports:
- RSF, "Beijing 2008: Press Report":
- CPJ, "Falling Short: As the 2008 Olympics Approach, China Falters on Press Freedom",
- Human Rights Watch, "'You Will Be Harassed and Detained': Media Freedoms under Assault in China Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games":
- Amnesty International, "The Olympics Countdown: One Year Left to Fulfil Human Rights Promises":
Visit these links:
- The Toronto Star, "China detains reporters":
- "Service Guide for Foreign Media", published on the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games' website:
- TAKE ACTION! Post an RSF or Human Rights Watch banner for human rights in China:
(Photo: RSF staff prepare for their news conference in Beijing outside the headquarters of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. Photo courtesy of RSF)

(7 August 2007)

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