Monday, December 10, 2007

Media rights group banned from entering China

Agence France-Presse
Last updated 10:00pm (Mla time) 12/10/2007 HONG KONG -- Global media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Monday it had been banned from entering mainland China, branding it the world's biggest prison for journalists.

Five activists from RSF unfurled a banner outside the representative office of the Chinese government in Hong Kong with the Olympic rings replaced by handcuffs to coincide with international human rights day, two days after they were refused visas.

"China is the biggest jail in the world for journalists and with the Olympic Games coming, it is the right time to do something about it," said Robert Menard, secretary-general of RSF.

Menard said that around 33 journalists and 49 cyber-dissidents were currently serving sentences in appalling conditions on trumped-up charges of "subversion" or "disseminating state secrets."

The group was blocked from entering China from Hong Kong, Vincent Brossel from RSF's Asia desk said. They had planned to unfurl the banner in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

"We know that some of us are blacklisted by the Chinese immigration services," RSF said in a statement.

"At a time when the government is compiling files on foreign journalists and human rights activists in advance of the Olympic Games, this refusal is evidence of its determination to keep critics at a distance."

China has denied operating a blacklist of journalists who want to come to Beijing to cover the Olympics next year and the government insists that freedom of speech is guaranteed by its constitution.

"I believe that Reporters Without Borders are just singing the same old tunes," said Sun Weide, spokesman of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee (BOCOG).

In August, police searched the hotel of four members of RSF campaigners visiting Beijing for a protest after earlier detaining about a dozen journalists covering the event.

China's communist rulers have trumpeted what they call the lifting of restrictions on foreign journalists ahead of the 2008 Olympics, but media rights groups say harassment and intimidation continue.

Sun denied the charge and said that BOCOG and the Chinese government "welcome all reporters from around the world to come and cover the Beijing Games."

"We will try our best to provide them with the services and conveniences they need," he added.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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