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OLYMPICS "CATASTROPHIC" FOR PRESS FREEDOM IN CHINA, SAYS GAO YU

Gao Yu, a Chinese journalist jailed twice for her reporting, says that conditions for media in the run-up to the Olympics are "considerably more catastrophic" than they were when she was arrested 15 years ago.

"Freedom of the press and human rights constitute the most serious problem currently facing China," said Gao, who was arrested in 1993 and sentenced to six years in prison for sending two articles on current affairs to a Hong Kong journal. She was convicted of "divulging state secrets", a charge often used by Chinese authorities to silence dissent.

Gao, speaking at the "Beijing Olympics 2008: Winning Press Freedom" conference organised by a coalition of leading press freedom groups, said she too is an Olympic victim. Her (second) arrest came weeks after China's failed bid to host the Olympics in 2000.

When China successfully bid for the 2008 Olympics, it said the media would have "complete freedom to report when they come to China." Yet, already, foreign journalists reporting from China are regularly harassed and even expelled, as recently occurred in Tibet.

Conditions are even worse for Chinese journalists: of the 31 who have been jailed since the successful Olympic bid in 2001, 16 remain in prison - and account for half of all Chinese journalists currently in jail. Organisers of the conference in Paris, including IFEX members World Association of Newspapers (WAN), the World Press Freedom Committee, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, called for their release.

Gao, the inaugural laureate of UNESCO's World Press Freedom Prize in 1997, said, "All Chinese who have suffered oppression hope to be able to utilise the occasion to seek justice; the international community hopes that the Chinese government will improve the situation of the press and human rights in line with the promise made in 2001.

"But the Chinese authorities see these internal and external pressures as 'politisation' of the Olympic Games. Unhappily, counterattacking these criticisms by repressing the freedom of the press only underlines this contradiction."

The conference in Paris on 18 and 19 April was organised to alert journalists, particularly sports reporters, to the press freedom conditions they should expect to encounter in China for the Olympics. More than 30,000 foreign journalists are expected at the Games - three journalists for every athlete.

The full programme can be found at: http://www.beijing2008conference.com/home.php

As part of its China campaign, WAN has produced a package of cartoons, advertisements, articles, photos and graphics for publication in thousands of newspapers worldwide on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. The free materials are available at: http://www.worldpressfreedomday.org

(22 April 2008)

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