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RSF decries Slovenian sports minister's recommendation that Olympic athletes avoid talking about human rights in Beijing

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF is outraged by Slovenian sports minister Milan Zver's recommendation, made on 14 February 2008 in an interview for the Associated Press, that Olympic athletes avoid talking about human rights while they are in Beijing.

"This kind of statement by Slovenia, the current holder of the European Union presidency, encourages the Chinese government to do nothing to improve the human rights situation before the start of the Beijing Summer Olympics," the press freedom organisation said.

"The Slovenian sports minister is undermining the work of European institutions, human rights organisations and, in general, all those who defend basic freedoms," RSF continued. "We call on Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose government holds the EU presidency, and the other members of the European Council, to disown Zver's comments and to reaffirm everyone's right, if they desire, to talk about the situation of basic freedoms in China during the Beijing games."

The organisation added: "With less than six months to go to the games, the only acceptable statement from the sports minister of any country is to say that athletes are free to express their views on any subject they like. Zver should follow the example of his Scandinavian counterparts who have briefed their athletes on the human rights situation in China."

Zver told the Associated Press: "Sports is too important. It is too important to use it as a political instrument." Talking about the human rights situation while in Beijing could have an adverse effect on the Chinese authorities, he said. "They need more time. Give them the time for that and do not use sports as an instrument."

European parliament president Hans-Gert Pöttering has urged the Chinese authorities on several occasions to improve the human rights situation before the Beijing games. He mentioned the release of human rights activist Hu Jia in particular.

Slovenia began a six-month stint as holder of the EU rotating presidency on 1 January.

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