IOC must act to curb Chinese restrictions on media

New York, July 29, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the International Olympic Committee to investigate reports that Internet connections within the Games’ Main Press Center, at the heart of the Olympics facilities in Beijing, have been censored and access to some Web sites has been restricted.

Reuters and other news agencies reported that reporters using the facilities have been unable to access the Amnesty International Web site today. Amnesty released a report critical of China’s human rights record in advance of the Games. International news reports also said that other human rights Web sites were being blocked today. IOC spokesman Kevan Gosper told Reuters that his organization will look into the apparent censorship.

The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games (known as BOCOG) had promised that the Internet facilities provided to journalists covering the Games would not be filtered, as they are for the rest of the country. At times, access to the BBC and a Hong Kong tabloid often critical of China, Apple Daily, has also been blocked in recent days.

“These reports are disturbing. With the Games only days away, China appears to be reneging on one of its most basic promises–that journalists would not be saddled with the same Internet restrictions placed on the rest of the country. The IOC has a responsibility to press China on these issues,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

“It was the IOC’s decision in 2001 to award the Games to China. Now is the time for the IOC to insist that China uphold its part of the bargain,” Dietz said.

More than 20,000 foreign journalists are expected to arrive in China to cover the Games. When China made its bid for the Games in 2001, its official bid promised “no restrictions on journalists in reporting on the Games.”

Though some travel restrictions were eased on foreign journalists in January 2007, the liberalized rules were largely ignored during the ethnic rioting in Tibet in March, CPJ found in a special report in June. Promises that reporters would be free to interview any Chinese citizen who would speak with them have been chilled after many incidents of security personnel questioning interview subjects after reporters have left the scene.

On Saturday, Hong Kong reporters and camera crews were angered when security personnel roughed them up and took their cameras when they covered a dispute among people lining up to buy some of the few remaining tickets for Olympic events.