Tight-lipped China

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

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 just re­leased 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 nonof­fi­cial thugs, ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued Aug. 7 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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