China breaking press vows

CPJ: 29 journalists still in prison

China is failing to remove press restrictions as it promised when granted hosting rights to the 2008 Summer Games by the International Olympic Committee, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 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 in Beijing.

"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, "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 members outside the country's biggest cities who 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."

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 and convicted for leaking state secrets. The rest worked for local media or freelanced.

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."