China's press still restricted after vow to IOC

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BEIJING -- With only a year to go before the 2008 Summer Games kick off in Beijing, China is failing to remove press restrictions as it promised when granted hosting rights by the International Olympics Committee, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said here Tuesday.

Today, 29 journalists are sitting in Chinese jails -- more than any other country in the world -- and more than half of those were imprisoned under vague state security laws, CPJ Asia program coordinator Robert Dietz told a roomful of reporters.

"For this country to be holding journalists in jail during the Olympics makes a travesty of their pledge," Dietz said as he unveiled a 79-page report titled "Falling Short: As the 2008 Olympics Approach, China Falters on Press Freedom."

The IOC expects 2008 to bring as many as 30,000 journalists to Beijing, where television, newspapers and, increasingly, the Internet, are monitored by a ruling Communist party that routinely issues "do not report" orders to local editors and reporters.

Although it is Chinese media outside the country's biggest cities that suffer most from beatings, arrests and censorship, a group of overseas reporters were detained Monday in Beijing after covering a press freedom event hosted by Paris-based nonprofit Reporters Without Borders, CPJ research associate Kristin Jones said.

Despite regulations introduced in January that allow overseas reporters freedom of movement through the end of the Olympics next October, uniformed police working with unidentified men in civilian clothes pulled the group of reporters from taxis as they tried to leave the Monday event, taking their names and ID card numbers and holding some for more than an hour until Foreign Ministry officials arrived to release them.

"The Olympics have created a sensitive issue, and it's high stakes for many top government and party officials," Jones said. "Local business and officials often collude to stop reporting on events that are embarrassing."

Jones pointed to the case of Chinese reporter Gao Chenrong, who spent eight years in prison on a conviction for embezzlement, corruption and pimping, when his real crime was exposing an irrigation project that overcharged taxpayers. "Many others like him remain in jail," she said.

CPJ's list of 29 jailed Chinese journalists include two who were working for the New York Times and Singapore's Straits Times, respectively, when they were tried for and convicted of leaking state secrets. The rest worked for local media or freelanced.

Although CPJ's mission primarily involves journalists outside the U.S., the report released in Beijing is available only in English. "This is a shortcoming," Dietz said, blaming it on limited resources and adding his hope that it will be translated from the CPJ Web site and spread through China by bloggers.

Paul Steiger, CPJ board chairman and editor at large of the Wall Street Journal, said the group will look into having some or all of the report translated into Chinese.

When asked if the CPJ would pressure overseas broadcasters to hit the IOC and Beijing where it hurts -- in the wallet -- and drop Olympics coverage if the government does not live up to its promises, Steiger said: "I don't think that CPJ has ever used that tactic in the past, and I would hope that we wouldn't have to go down that road in this case."

Steiger added that the CPJ is not singling out China, citing recent reports on the lack of press freedom in Russia, Venezuela, Columbia, Pakistan and the Philippines.
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