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OLYMPICS NO WINDOW FOR PRO-TIBET AND OTHER PROTESTS

While the 2008 Olympic Games went ahead as planned in Beijing, Chinese authorities squashed dissent and free expression of Chinese and foreigners, particularly when it involved Tibet.

After two video bloggers were detained and two Associated Press journalists obstructed on 19 August, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Chinese police to stop harassing photographers from documenting pro-Tibet protests. But plainclothes security officers at a pro-Tibet rally two days later roughed up and questioned two AP photographers, confiscating memory cards.

U.S. video bloggers Brian Conley and Jeff Rae were detained on 19 August, according to Students for a Free Tibet. Their footage and images of protest events have been published on pro-Tibet websites and circulated to media, the group told CPJ. Conley, Rae and four others were detained, it said, while Beijing police stated that six foreigners were punished with 10-day detentions on 19 August for disturbing public order.

A third video blogger, Noel Hidalgo, told CPJ that as he was documenting a 10 August pro-Tibet protest, police tried to smash his camera and then arrested and deported him. His footage of an earlier protest is on CPJ's blog. The Deutsche Welle agency said China deported all 10 of the pro-Tibet activists it arrested during the Olympics.

On 13 August, Chinese security guards detained and roughed up a British journalist after he filmed pro-Tibetan protests. John Ray of Independent Television News (ITN) and two Chinese colleagues filmed protestors who brought a "Free Tibet" banner inside the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park. Though the group clearly identified themselves as journalists, security officers dragged Ray into a nearby restaurant, knocked him down and interrogated him for half an hour.

Internal directives sent at the end of July told Chinese police not to obstruct the international press but to investigate Chinese citizens who talked to the foreign media and to deal quickly with religious demonstrations, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) revealed.

Despite promises to respect press freedom during the Olympics, Chinese authorities continued to jam the international radio broadcasts, RSF said. Chinese-language broadcasts by the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and Sound of Hope (linked to the Falun Gong) were jammed, plus Tibetan and Uighur-language broadcasts by RFA and Voice of Tibet.

Under international pressure, China unblocked some websites of international media and rights groups, but RSF said many sites continued to be blocked in Tibet. Squelching of dissent included stopping a "laser graffiti protest" by an American, and Apple's iTunes online music store appeared blocked for users in China after a pro-Tibet album became a hit, AFP said.

Not only were none of the 72 applications for protests in three designated Beijing areas approved, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and Antenna International reported that elderly Beijing residents Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying were sentenced to a year of "re-education through labour" after repeatedly applying for permits to demonstrate. The two women have been petitioning the government since being forcibly evicted from their Beijing homes in 2001.

Zeng Jinyan, wife of imprisoned human rights defender Hu Jia, was detained with her child by police from 7 to 23 August, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said. Hu, who suffers from liver cirrhosis, must perform outdoor manual labour for seven hours a day. Prison authorities have confiscated Hu's letters to his family and a book on prisoners' rights sent by Zeng.

Also during the Olympics, CHRD learned, Wang Xiaoqiao, an AIDS activist from Henan province, was quietly convicted of "extortion" and sentenced to a year in prison. Human Rights First called on the international community not to forget Chinese human rights defenders now that the Olympics are over.

Visit these links:
- Activists deported: http://tinyurl.com/5p3625
- British journalist roughed up: http://tinyurl.com/5qljcr
- Chinese media strategy: http://tinyurl.com/5zjb3m
- Guardian on media restrictions: http://tinyurl.com/6evq9x
- IFEX round-up: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96070/
- How Western reporters coped: http://tinyurl.com/5n9aq5
- Websites blocked in Tibet: http://tinyurl.com/6gub5a
- Laser graffiti protest: http://tinyurl.com/566bus
- iTunes blocked: http://tinyurl.com/64uan5
- RSF on Internet in Tibet:: http://tinyurl.com/5vk8sz
- AIDS activist sentenced: http://tinyurl.com/6xyrsg
- CHRD: http://tinyurl.com/67jxwe
- Don't Forget Chinese Defenders: http://tinyurl.com/66drvr
Photo: Beijing police block Guardian photographer Dan Chung (courtesy of the Guardian)

(27 August 2008)

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