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Reporters Without Borders promise action in Olympic torch relay

25 March 2008
Paris/Madrid (dpa) – Three of its members were detained for 10 hours at a Greek police station, but Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has no plans to quit protesting and promises a lot of action in the Olympic torch relay ahead of Beijing 2008.

"Now that the torch relay has started we are going to keep carrying out actions in other cities," RSF number two Jean-François Julliard told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Along with two other members of the organization, Julliard unfurled a banner on Monday in ancient Olympia: it depicted the Olympic rings transformed into handcuffs in a protest critical of China’s human-rights record.

One of members approached Beijing Games chief Liu Qi during his speech in front of hundreds of officials but was quickly led away by police before all three were arrested. Liu did not get distracted by the commotion and continued his speech while television footage cut away from the incident.

Protestors were taken to a nearby police station, where they were detained for 10 hours until a lawyer informed them that they had been charged with "offense against Olympic symbols."

Nobody at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) got in touch with the three activists. "Still less," a member of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee (BOCOG), Julliard noted.

Greek police released the three demonstrators Tuesday, and they quickly travelled to France, where RSF – which focuses on defending freedom of expression – has its headquarters. However, they are expected back in Greece on May 29, to stand trial in the town of Pyrgos.

RSF intends to stir the international community into boycotting the inaugural ceremony at Beijing 2008, to protest over human rights violations in China.

"The Olympic flame may be sacred but human rights are even more so," the organization said in a statement Monday, shortly after its protest.

Julliard noted that the group had been planning the action at the torch-lighting ceremony "for a very long time."

"Then there was also a large part of improvisation, because we did not know what we were going to do until the last day, until we found out what the security mechanisms were going to be," the Frenchman added.

The Chinese government on Tuesday condemned the protest as "shameful" and urged all nations through which the torch passes on its way to Beijing for the Summer Olympics to take precautions against planned demonstrations.

"Security measures in Olympia were very great," Julliard recalled. "However, in other cities that the flame goes through, security will surely be less. And then we will find the way to demonstrate."

In China things are likely to be more difficult.

"Impossible," Julliard guessed. "We are not getting a visa. Perhaps when we get closer in time we will find a way. But for now every time we have requested a visa it has been denied."

Chinese repression of protests demanding autonomy for Tibet has spurred a wave of criticism to the Beijing government, which has left the IOC in an uncomfortable position. IOC President Jacques Rogge has favoured "silent diplomacy," but RSF disagrees with him.

"He is wrong. He has to say something now, he has to speak out openly," Julliard said.

RSF has not managed to meet with Rogge.

"We would like to, but I think he does not feel like it," Julliard said.

[Copyright dpa 2008]