After pledging press freedom for Olympics, China falls far short

New York, May 11, 2006—With the 2008 Olympic Games just two years away, the Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned about the Chinese government’s continuing crackdown on the media. China’s policies of the past three years show a disturbing trend that seems certain to affect journalists reporting from Beijing in 2008. CPJ calls on the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee to address the issue on Tuesday, when the IOC’s coordination commission arrives in Beijing to assess the city’s preparations to host the 2008 Games.

When making its bid in 2001 to host the Games, China persuaded the IOC that there would be full media freedom for all accredited journalists. In its report issued on April 3, 2001, the IOC’s evaluation commission noted the government’s promise that “there will be no restrictions on media reporting and movement of journalists up to and including the Olympic Games.” Around the same time, supporters of Beijing’s Olympic bid argued that selecting China’s capital as the host city would promote the development of human rights in China.

“We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China,” Wang Wei, secretary-general of the Beijing Olympic Games bid committee, told reporters in July 2001. “We are confident that the Games’ coming to China not only promotes our economy but also enhances all social conditions, including education, health, and human rights.”

Five years after Wang’s comments, China’s increasingly repressive policies toward the press belie these promises. Instead of gradually easing restrictions on journalists as the Games approach, the Chinese government under the administration of President Hu Jintao has stepped up interference in news reporting. Chinese journalists tell CPJ that they face more pressure now than at any time since the aftermath of the crackdown on demonstrators on Tiananmen Square in 1989. According to CPJ research, China held 32 journalists in prison at the end of 2005, a trend that has continued in 2006 with the jailing of Beijing-based documentary filmmaker Wu Hao and reporters Yang Xiaoqing and Li Yuanlong.

These circumstances have already affected reporters’ ability to cover Olympics-related developments in Beijing. In 2005, authorities blacked out local coverage of a protest over land seized for the construction of the Games’ water-sports complex in the suburbs of Beijing and warned protestors not to talk to foreign correspondents, according to The Economist.

At risk are not only journalists working for domestic media. Journalists working for foreign media outlets, which are certain to boost their presence in Beijing in 2008, have been attacked. In 2004, Beijing-based New York Times researcher Zhao Yan was imprisoned in connection with the newspaper’s reporting on a transition in Chinese leadership. Authorities dropped charges against Zhao in March, but did not release him; inexplicably, he has remained behind bars as investigations against him have resumed. Meanwhile, Hong Kong reporter Ching Cheong, a correspondent for the Singapore-based Straits Times, remains imprisoned in Beijing more than a year after his detention in April 2005. He has been accused of espionage, but has never been brought to trial.

Journalists, both local and foreign, have also been physically assaulted for their work. While reporting on the suppression of a campaign to recall a local elected official in southern China’s Taishi village in October 2005, Malaysian reporter Leu Siew Ying and French radio journalist Abel Segretin were attacked by a group of men, some of whom wore camouflage uniforms. After the attack, it was the two reporters who were detained by police.

This year, CPJ documented the first work-related death of a journalist in China since 2001. Wu Xianghu, deputy editor of Taizhou Wanbao, died in February after sustaining serious injuries months earlier when traffic police in the coastal city of Taizhou attacked him for an expose on their corrupt activities.

“To meet its pledge of allowing reporters to work freely and safely in China in 2008, the host government must provide much more than modern press facilities,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “It must ensure that journalists working in China are safe from physical attack and unfair detention for performing their duties. We urge China and the IOC to discuss these issues on May 16 and in future meetings.”