China: IOC caves in to China's demands on internet censorship

Amnesty International today condemned the Chinese authorities’ blocking of certain websites for foreign journalists covering the Olympic Games. The organisation called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG) to provide immediate, uncensored Internet access at Olympic media venues.

Amnesty was reacting to statements by Kevin Gosper, International Olympic Committee (IOC) press commission chair, saying “I regret that it now appears BOCOG has announced that there will be limitations on website access during Games time (…). I also now understand that some IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered Games related.”

Journalists working from the Olympics press centre in Beijing were not able to access a number of websites, including that of Amnesty International, when the organisation launched its report The Olympics Countdown: Broken Promises yesterday.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“Censoring the Internet at the Games compromises fundamental human rights and is a betrayal of the Olympic values. The Internet repression endured by Chinese web users will now be imposed on visiting journalists as well.

“The IOC and BOCOG must honour the promise of ‘complete media freedom’ and provide immediate uncensored Internet access for journalists at the Games. Otherwise it will only show that the IOC has caved-in to China’s demands on Internet censorship.

“This is another example of the Chinese government's broken promises when it comes to respecting human rights at the Olympics. They assured the world that journalists would be free to do their jobs during the Games but, as in many other areas, they haven’t delivered.”

The IOC has on many occasions highlighted the loosening of restrictions on foreign media in China as an example of the promised improvement in human rights by the Chinese authorities through the hosting of the Olympics. On 1 April, Kevin Gosper said that the continued blocking of some websites would "reflect very poorly" on the hosts. On 17 July Jacques Rogge, IOC President, said "there will be no censorship of the internet."

Amnesty has long campaigned against Internet censorship in China. The ‘Golden Shield’ or ‘Great Firewall of China’ is a censorship and surveillance project that allows the government to block and filter Internet content and monitor Internet users. Observers estimate a 30,000-strong internet police force which, with the aid of Western-provided technology, is dedicated to monitoring websites and emails. Western IT giants like Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft have been complicit in China’s repression of Internet users, filtering we searches and taking down blogs at the behest of the qauthorities.

Amnesty is calling for the release of journalist and cyber-dissident Shi Tao. In 2004 Shi Tao sent an email to an overseas website describing the Chinese government's instructions on how his newspaper should cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Helped by Yahoo!, the Chinese authorities identified Shi through his email account. He is now serving a 10-year sentence in a Chinese jail.

Huang Jinqiu, a writer and journalist, also continues to serve a 12-year sentence for ‘subversion’ in Pukou Prison near Nanjing city, Jiangsu province in connection with political essays he posted on the internet, including plans to establish a China Patriotic Democracy Party.

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