China faced mounting pressure on Tuesday to honour pledges of media freedom made for the 2008 Olympics, with two Western groups accusing the government of harassing and unfairly jailing journalists.
Separate reports by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Human Rights Watch said foreign and Chinese reporters still faced intimidation just a year before the Beijing Games open, despite China’s pledges to the contrary.
”The ongoing harassment and detention of journalists makes Beijing’s Olympic pledge on media freedoms seem more like a public relations ploy than a sincere policy initiative,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.
The reports, along with a similar call by press-freedom group Reporters sans Frontières on Monday, were timed to pressure China as it celebrates this week’s one-year countdown to the Beijing Games, which start on August 8 2008.
A wide range of rights groups around the world, including those hoping to end the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region and labour abuse in China, have vowed to step up their campaigns against China over the next 12 months.
The two media groups on Tuesday said government officials, police and plainclothes ”thugs” employed by the government were obstructing, detaining, and in some cases physically attacking journalists.
Human Rights Watch said the obstructions typically occurred when journalists sought to cover ”sensitive” topics such as political dissidents, Tibet, the spread of HIV, riots and other public unrest.
The harassment continues despite relaxed restrictions on foreign journalists beginning January 1 and continuing to October 2008, which allow reporters to freely conduct interviews with consenting Chinese parties.
Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia coordinator, called that ”window dressing” and chastised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for not putting more pressure on Beijing.
”It is the responsibility of the IOC to come to grips with this problem,” Dietze told reporters in Beijing at the release of the report.
But IOC chief Jacques Rogge said in comments e-mailed to Agence France-Presse that it was not within his power to pressure China.
He cautioned that expectations the IOC should apply pressure on China beyond preparations for the Games ”are misplaced, especially when they concern sovereign matters where it is not for the IOC to get involved”.
CPJ said Chinese reporters faced even greater risk of assault or detention and called for Beijing to release 29 imprisoned domestic journalists.
On Monday, four officials from Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières staged a press conference and demonstration in Beijing calling for the release of jailed journalists and greater IOC pressure.
Police briefly detained about a dozen journalists covering the event and later questioned the group’s officials and searched their hotel rooms.
”The Chinese government’s attempts to intimidate and detain … journalists simply for doing their jobs shows contempt for the Olympics ideas of fair play,” Human Rights Watch’s Adams said.
Also on Tuesday, six foreign activists were detained by police after staging a two-hour protest and hanging a free-Tibet banner on a popular section of China’s Great Wall near Beijing, the Free Tibet Campaign said. – Sapa-AFP