China: Unblocking Amnesty site welcomed but promised media freedom still a long way off

Amnesty International today welcomed the unblocking of its website in the Olympics media venues and reportedly in other parts of Beijing. But it insisted that the promise of ‘complete media freedom’ in China during the Olympics has still not been honoured and that the IOC and world leaders should press for an end to Internet censorship in China.

Amnesty highlighted the case of Shi Tao, who is serving a ten-year prison sentence for sending an email about media restrictions to an overseas website.

Amnesty International UK China Campaign Manager Kristyan Benedict said:

“It’s good news that the Amnesty site has been unblocked in the Olympics media venues and perhaps elsewhere in Beijing, but it’s still a long way from the ‘complete media freedom’ that was promised.

“Blocking and then unblocking sites for journalists arbitrarily simply doesn’t respect basic standards of free speech.

“Chinese people have just as much right to freedoms of expression and information as anyone else, yet this right is systematically denied. We are calling on the Chinese government to bring an end to Internet repression in line with their Olympic promises.

“On this occasion it seems that public outrage has succeeded where the IOC’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ failed. It’s time for the Olympic movement and world leaders to speak up about human rights for China.”

Beijing-based journalists have told Amnesty International that the organisation's website together with several others - including those of Human Rights Watch, Radio Free Asia and the BBC Chinese language service - have now been unblocked in the Olympics media venues. Some reports suggest that they are also accessible in other parts of Beijing, although availability appears to be inconsistent.

Other websites which cover human rights or political issues remain blocked. They include another website set up by Amnesty International to encourage debate about China's human rights record in the run-up to the Games www.thechinadebate.org .

The Chinese authorities have imprisoned several Chinese journalists for posting or accessing information on the web deemed politically sensitive. 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.

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 that the Chinese authorities have a 30,000-strong Internet police force dedicated to monitoring websites and emails, with the aid of Western-provided technology. IT giants like Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft have been complicit in China’s repression of Internet users, filtering web searches and taking down blogs at the behest of the authorities.

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