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The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has called on all participants in next summer's Beijing Olympics, from the athletes and their sponsors, to the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and their media partners, to "speak out about China's human rights abuses" and hold the government to its promises of reform.

The resolution issued by WAN on 19 November is part of a worldwide campaign to draw attention to Chinese press abuses and help free jailed journalists in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

"The WAN Board believes the end of 'business as usual' in China is necessary to affect belated and needed reform, and it encourages all partners in the Games, and all companies doing business with China, to speak out about China's human rights abuses," said the resolution.

The WAN resolution also called for the Chinese authorities "to release from prison the dozens of journalists serving long jail sentences for freely exercising their profession." According to WAN, at least 30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents are currently in Chinese prisons.

Li Changqing, this year's winner of WAN's Golden Pen of Freedom award, was jailed for three years in January 2006 for breaking a story on an outbreak of dengue fever that authorities would have preferred to keep secret.

Shi Tao, last year's winner of WAN's Golden Pen of Freedom, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for sending an email about Chinese media restrictions on the Tiananmen Square massacre. According to WAN, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and PEN American Center, just this month U.S. lawmakers condemned Yahoo! for helping Chinese police persecute Tao and other cyber-reporters by providing information that led to their arrest. Yahoo! has since apologised to Tao's mother and settled a lawsuit with Tao's family.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and RSF call the recent crackdown on "fake" foreign journalists ahead of next year's Olympics in Beijing a pretext to block critical reporters from covering the Games.

The Chinese authorities have been compiling a database of foreign journalists who will be allowed to work in China during the Olympics, the official "China Daily" reported last week. So far, 150 out of 8,000 are deemed to be phoney.

"Allegations of 'fake' reporting are a transparent justification for extending the Chinese government's strict control of press coverage, in violation of all their promises to the contrary," says CPJ.

A national hotline has even been set up to solicit allegations of illegal journalism, newspapers or news reports.

RSF is aware of four recent arrests of "fake journalists", most recently last week where two editors of "The Social News" newspaper were arrested in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

As a result of the outcry, the Chinese authorities have now denied the files exist and are blaming a "bad journalist" employed by the state media, RSF says.

Also last week, the Hong Kong-based "South China Morning Post" reported that the Propaganda Department sent a directive to leading Chinese news media last week asking them to avoid publishing negative stories on matters affecting the Games, like stories on air pollution, a dispute over Taiwan's inclusion in the Olympic torch relay, and public health issues.

WAN is planning an international conference next March with IFEX members RSF and the World Press Freedom Committee, as well as Human Rights in China, dedicated to the press freedom situation in China. WAN also plans to devote its World Press Freedom Day (3 May) coverage to the same subject.

Visit these links:
- WAN:
- WAN on Golden Pen of Freedom:
- RSF on Yahoo!:
- RSF on phoney journalists:
- PEN American Center:
- CPJ:
- ARTICLE 19 report on China's legal stranglehold on the press:
Check out the IFEX members' Beijing 2008 campaign websites:
- Human Rights Watch:
- RSF:
(Image courtesy of RSF)

(20 November 2007)

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