Wednesday, August 8, 2007

As part of their bid package for the 2008 Olympic Games, Chinese authorities in 2001 promised to expand human rights and press freedoms. Six years later as China prepares to launch the games exactly one year from today, these flowery assurances have fallen by the wayside, triggering protests and condemnations from human-rights and journalism groups worldwide. These protests are warranted, and, we hope they will cajole Chinese officials into granting basic guarantees to free expression, for both foreign and domestic correspondents.

Foreign correspondents working in China are routinely harassed, intimidated and denied access to government officials and data. Forty percent of respondents to a survey released last week by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China say they have suffered interference while trying to report stories. Ninety-five percent say conditions for foreign journalists in China do not meet international standards of transparency. Sixty-seven percent say China is failing to meet its 2001 pledges of increased press freedom. These survey results come in spite of temporary concessions made in January of this year, including a regulation allowing foreign journalists the ability to travel the country without prior approval. Unfortunately, these short-term concessions will expire in October 2008, just after the Olympics wrap up in August. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), athletes and sponsors must urge Chinese authorities to make such basic allowances permanent.

Chinese citizens hired to assist foreign correspondents and Chinese sources quoted by foreign media face routine reprisals from official and non-official thugs, according to a report issued yesterday by Human Rights Watch. The report found that assistants, sources and their families are regularly harassed or placed under surveillance by Chinese state officials. Such persecution is objectionable and should be disavowed by the international community.

Chinese journalists and bloggers face the biggest threats of harassment and intimidation. There are at least 32 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents currently imprisoned by the Chinese authorities, some without charges or guarantees to due process, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based organization monitoring press freedoms worldwide. On Monday, Reporters Without Borders launched an international campaign highlighting press abuses and urging IOC officials to demand that Chinese authorities cease flouting their previous self-imposed standards of press freedoms.

Events have occurred thus far in Beijing, Paris, New York and Montreal. In Washington, the organization is working with Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus for the Freedom of the Press, to draft a Dear Colleague letter calling for press freedoms in China. We hope Mr. Schiff’s colleagues, as well as State Department officials, will support his efforts.

With one year until the summer games, now is the opportune time for China to begin showcasing not only its exquisite countryside, formidable resources and facilities, but also its commitment to free expression.

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