IOC says it cannot order China to lift internet blocks

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The International Olympic Committee says while he is disappointed that the Chinese government is blocking sensitive sites, it cannot tell China what to do.

30 July 2008

BEIJING - The chairman of the International Olympic Committee's press commission, Kevan Gosper, has said he was "disappointed" that the Chinese authorities were blocking websites deemed sensitive, but that the IOC cannot tell China what to do, according to a report in the South China Morning Post Wednesday.

Gosper's statements to the newspaper indicate the IOC apparently knew in advance that the websites would be blocked, despite having told the international media that the estimated 25,000 journalists who are in Beijing already or will arrive in coming days to report about the 2008 Olympic Games would be granted unfettered access.

"I have also been advised that some of the IOC officials had negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked," the Hong Kong-based newspaper quoted Gosper saying.

"I would like it all to be open. I am not here to defend the Chinese decisions. I am here to ensure journalists can report on the Games. I am disappointed the access is not wider. But I can't tell the Chinese what to do," Gosper said.

Gosper told the SCMP that the IOC had negotiated with the Beijing organisers for "unimpeded and uncensored" Internet access for journalists, and asked for reporters to be allowed to report on "about what else happened elsewhere in China" and not just the Games.

"You are dealing with a communist country that has censorship. You are getting what they say you can have," Gosper was quoted as saying.

Gosper also admitted the Olympic movement had inadvertently misled the media over the past seven years into thinking they would be granted unfettered access during the Games.

"If you have been misled by what I have told you [over the months and years] about there being free Internet access during the Games, then I apologise," Gosper told the newspaper.

The SCMP said that when asked if he will discuss the situation with the Beijing Olympics organising committee (BOCOG), and within the IOC, Gosper replied: "I suspect they have made their decision."

Websites critical of China or deemed politically sensitive, including ones for longtime critics of China's human rights record - Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch - are banned, as well as websites for Tibetan rights groups and the outlawed spiritual movement Falun Gong.

Sun Weide, spokesman for BOCOG, rejected criticism by journalists and said the internet access provided at the Games main press centre was "sufficient".

"The coverage of the Games is not affected," he said.

"You have comprehensive access," Sun told journalists.

Sun justified blocking access to the website of the Falun Gong meditation movement by saying the organisation was "an evil cult which was banned in China".

When asked about the blockage of the websites of Amnesty International and the Tibetan government in exile, Sun said he was not informed in detail about the individual sites.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on Tuesday had also insisted China was justified in banning Falun Gong websites.

"Falun Gong is banned in China, so of course the related publicity is illegal in China and are banned according to law," he said.

Olympic Watch, a Prague-based human rights organization set up in 2001 to help keep the Chinese government accountable for its Olympics-related human rights pledges, on Wednesday issued a statement harshly criticizing the continued censorship of internet access for journalists and athletes in Beijing.

Olympic Watch also said the IOC's so-called silent diplomacy strategy has proven to be ineffective.

"If the International Olympic Committee wants to save any credibility it has left at this point, it must discontinue its demonstrably ineffective strategy of silent diplomacy and publicly call for an end to censorship in China, and for the release of all those Chinese citizens who have been persecuted in relation with Olympics," the group's chairman Jan Ruml said in the statement.

[dpa / Expatica]

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