The start of the Olympic Games has done nothing to help Chinese human rights activists, who continue to be arrested, watched or threatened. At the same time, incidents involving foreign journalists, including an attack today on a British TV reporter working for ITV, shows that the security services are still preventing the foreign press from working freely.
To illustrate this, Reporters Without Borders today offers the comments of a foreign reporter about surveillance and harassment by the Chinese police.
"In view of the many incidents, we call on the International Olympic Committee to intercede on behalf of the Chinese citizens who are in danger because of the position they have taken during the Olympic Games," Reporters Without Borders said.
"It is the duty of the Olympic movement in its entirety to ensure respect for the spirit of the Olympic truce," the organisation added. "Since the origins of the Olympics, tradition has required that peace should prevail during the games."
The IOC website has this to say about the Olympic truce in ancient Greece: "During the truce period, the athletes, artists and their families, as well as ordinary pilgrims, could travel in total safety to participate in or attend the Olympic Games and return afterwards to their respective countries. (...) The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to revive the ancient concept of the Olympic Truce with the view (...) to encourage searching for peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts around the world."
John Ray of the British television news service ITN was today covering a protest by several foreign activists who unfurled a pro-Tibet banner near Beijing’s main Olympic zone, when he was arrested by police, dragged along the ground and forcibly restrained for about 20 minutes although he identified himself as a journalist. "This was an assault in my mind, I am incredibly angry about this," Ray told Agence France Presse.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) says there have been five incidents since 7 August. In one of these incidents, police arrested two Associated Press reporters in the northwestern province of Xinjiang and erased the photos they had taken. One of them was arrested while watching the opening ceremony on TV. Two Scandinavian journalists were prevented from interviewing peasants in Hebei province about the impact of the games on their activities.
A European journalist who has been working in Beijing for several years has given Reporters Without Borders a gripping description of what it is like for her and her colleagues in Beijing, and the risks run by Chinese who dare to speak to the foreign press.
"They don’t stop following me, filming me and photographing me," she said. "I think twice before interviewing Chinese about sensitive issues for fear that they could be arrested (...) Last week several Chinese were arrested after giving me interviews. Firstly, people living in the Qianmen district that is in the process of being renovated. They included a woman in charge of an association of evicted residents who sued the government for not paying them enough compensation. The trial began in July but was postponed because of the Olympics. I interviewed her, as other journalists did. Since then she has been detained.
"The same thing happened with the pastor of an unrecognised church. Finally, a British woman of Tibetan origin was arrested and expelled after giving me an interview. Under these circumstances, we are all forced to censor ourselves and to refuse to interview certain Chinese for fear of their being immediately arrested. We are all in this situation of intimidation, which makes it very hard for us to work in China, despite the overall improvements.
"What’s more, the official media have not stopped attacking us since last March’s events in Tibet. In addition to the death threats received by dozens of foreign journalists, the Chinese media try to undermine our credibility. And all of this gained pace in the run-up to the games."
She is right about Chinese being arrested for talking to the foreign media. Zhang Wei, a former resident of the Beijing district of Qianmen, was arrested on 9 August after filing a request for permission to protest about her family’s eviction two years ago to make way for Olympic construction. The Associated Press quotes her son as saying she is to be held for a month for "disrupting the social order." The Public Security Bureau said it was looking at her case and had no other comment to make.
Other Chinese are being hounded by the authorities, who fear they could protest during the games. There has been no news since 7 August of Zeng Jinyan, the wife of imprisoned activist Hu Jia, and their seven-month-old daughter. Her mother in law said to several Chinese-language news outlets say she may has been forced her to leave the capital. She had been under permanent police surveillance for several years in the "Freedom" residential area where she lives.
Some Beijing intellectuals such as Liu Xiaobo and Yu Jie have not been detained, but are under police surveillance. Wan Yanhai, the head of an NGO that cares for AIDS sufferers, chose to leave Beijing during the games to avoid being harassed by the police.
Hua Huiqi, the head of an unrecognised protestant church, was arrested in Beijing on 9 August while on his way to a church service that was attended by US President George W. Bush. His brother - arrested at the same time but freed a few hours later - says he has had no news of Hua since then. The police deny ever arresting Hua and claim they had no role in his disappearance. Human Rights in China meanwhile says it got a short letter in which Hua apparently recounts his arrest and subsequent escape.
Ji Sizun, a human rights activist form Fujian province, was arrested on 11 August for filing a request several days earlier for permission to demonstrate in one for the areas designated by the Beijing authorities for protests. Human Rights Watch says Ji wanted to organise a rally to protest against corruption and to call for more citizen participation in government decisions.
According to HRW, several other Chinese have been arrested or threatened for filing demonstration requests. They include relatives of children killed in the collapse of "tofu" (shoddily-built) schools in the May earthquake in Sichuan. The Washington Post reports that families were prevent from boarding flights in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu.
Several members of the outlawed China Democracy Party were arrested in the days preceding the games opening ceremony. According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Xie Changfa of Hunan province was arrested on 2 August, while Wang Rongqing, 65, of Zhejiang province was arrested on 31 July. They have been charged with inciting subversion of state authority.