CPJ concerned online curbs still restrict Olympic journalists

New York, August 19, 2008—Research published today by OpenNet Initiative says that more than 50 Web sites related to news, human rights, and pro-Tibet groups were blocked in Beijing and in the Olympics’ Main Press Center as the Games were about to begin. Those sites included the Web site of the Committee to Protect Journalists, www.cpj.org.

OpenNet Initiative, an academic partnership that studies Internet censorship issues, said that a small handful of sites were made available on August 1, after journalists complained that access at the press center was being restricted. The brief OpenNet Initiative report, published on the group’s blog, does not specify the current status of the affected sites, although reports by CPJ and others indicate that many have remained blocked. CPJ’s Web site was still blocked in the Main Press Center today, according to CPJ research.

OpenNet Initiative, which described its testing as a “snapshot of Internet filtering in China leading up to week one of the Olympics,” found a range of sites blocked. They included news sites such as China Digital Times; those affiliated with press freedom causes, such as Reporters Without Borders and CPJ; and sites associated with human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights in China, and the Dui Hua Foundation, which advocates on behalf of political detainees.

“This report from an authoritative organization adds further evidence that China has placed unacceptable restrictions on the Internet in contradiction to its pre-Olympic promises,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We call on the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee to continue to address this issue and allow the completely free Internet access that was promised for the benefit of journalists and ordinary Chinese citizens.”

Internet censorship in China is highly sophisticated but is incomplete and subject to change. While CPJ’s Web site has been largely inaccessible during the Games, according to numerous sources, two journalists said that they were able to access it at times.

Beijing explicitly promised journalists freedom to report in its bid to host the Games in 2001 and said when the press centers opened that no filtering would be applied at Games venues. CPJ repeated its call for unfettered Web access in light of public statements by the IOC and local organizers on August 12.

Despite the restrictions, OpenNet Initiative has noted that the Olympics brought “incrementally increased openness” to Beijingers. Although it is not clear how long the greater accessibility will last, city residents can now read an unusual number of overseas-hosted Chinese language sites such as Wikipedia, the report says.