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How telling it is that a noted editor and a Danish sculptor were denied entry to Hong Kong to take part in a free expression in China conference organised for World Press Freedom Day.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) teamed up with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), PEN, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and others to kick off the 100-day countdown to the Beijing Olympics with a four-day conference that would highlight their Olympian challenge: gaining free expression in China.

Zhang Yu, a Swedish-based editor and secretary-general of the Independent Chinese PEN Center who was due to chair one of the sessions, and Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot did not even make it out of the Hong Kong airport. Galschiot's "Pillar of Shame" is a memorial to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

"The ironies in this situation are painful," said Isobel Harry, executive director of PEN Canada. "Holding this conference in Hong Kong was to demonstrate that the Chinese people are ready, not only for the Olympics, but for freedom of expression."

Zhang has twice in the past year been prevented from entering Beijing, and verbally accused of "endangering national security". This time, he was held for 10 hours after he arrived in Hong Kong from Sweden via London, and then forced to turn around.

"They used various uncivilised means, including cheating (because they never intended to let me in) and threatening physical abuse to force me to leave the soil of my own country immediately, regardless of my request for time with my lawyer to challenge their decision in Hong Kong," said Zhang. "This is an obvious indication that the negative impact of the Beijing Olympics on Chinese citizens' rights is increasing as the Games draw near."

China, which remains the world's biggest jailer of journalists, promised in its successful Olympic bid to ensure greater freedom of expression.

But any goodwill shown has been cancelled out by Beijing's crackdown on dissent in recent weeks. Foreign journalists reporting from China are regularly harassed and even expelled - as witnessed in Tibet.

The situation is even worse in China, with at least 30 journalists in jail. The most recent sentence was handed down to prominent human rights activist and blogger Hu Jia last month, who got three-and-a-half years in jail for speaking out about China's escalating crackdown on dissent ahead of the Games. HKJA and IFJ have launched a petition demanding his release, which will be presented to the Chinese authorities on 12 May, Buddha's birthday:

Conference organisers grimly observed that China's latest move "serves notice to those who believe that Hong Kong's freedoms will have a positive influence on China, or that 'engagement' with China will magically convince the authorities to change their practices."

Visit these links:
- WAN:
- WAN's Free the Press in China campaign:
- PEN American Center:
- IFEX China page:
For an update on how other IFEX members and partners commemorated World Press Freedom Day, visit IFEX's World Press Freedom Day page and click on events in your region:

(Cartoon courtesy of WAN/Michel Cambon)

(6 May 2008)

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