25 March 2008


Rights activists angered by the Chinese crackdown in Tibet, including three members of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), were arrested on Monday for disrupting the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece.

RSF general secretary Robert Ménard and two other RSF members unfurled a banner of the Olympic rings transformed into handcuffs and called for a boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Games in August.

The incident occurred as Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee, was addressing thousands of dignitaries, Olympics officials and spectators, minutes before the flame was lit at the ancient Greek temple of Olympia amid a security detail of 1,000 police officers and commandos. The 24 March ceremony marks the official countdown to the Games.

According to RSF, Chinese state television cut to a pre-recorded scene during the disruption, and Greek national television broke off its broadcast.

Moments later, about 10 Tibetan activists marched out of a hotel in Olympia and shouted slogans against Chinese rule in Tibet. One woman doused in red paint lay down in the town's main street in front of a torch runner.

Police detained the three RSF members and some of the Tibetan activists. The RSF reps were charged for showing "contempt for national symbols" and will go to trial on 29 May.

"We cannot let the Chinese government seize the Olympic flame, a symbol of peace, without denouncing the dramatic situation of human rights in the country," RSF said in a statement.

RSF, along with other IFEX members, has condemned China's human rights violations and the crackdown on press freedom in the face of rising civil unrest in Tibet.

Human Rights Watch says the Olympics officials' resolve to run the Olympic torch through Tibet's capital Lhasa on 20-21 June could invite new protests and provoke further repression. "Either Tibet is open or it's not. If it is, let independent monitors and the media go there. If it's not, the torch shouldn't go there either," says Human Rights Watch.

China is facing a public relations disaster since protests erupted in Lhasa on 10 March, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and spread through Tibet and neighbouring provinces. The Chinese authorities responded by dispersing the protests, in some cases violently.

The government says 22 people have died in the clashes but the toll has been impossible to confirm because of a news blackout imposed by China on the country's interior. Tibet exile groups say at least 80 people have been killed.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), state media has not reported the spread of violence into western China. The government censors have access to overseas reports and online discussion, leaving many in China uninformed about the extent of the turmoil. Meanwhile, the state press is relaying one-sided statements by officials raging against the "Dalai Lama's clique", "rioters", and foreign news media, says RSF.

The Chinese government continues to ban and expel foreign journalists from Tibet and the neighbouring provinces of Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan, as well as the capital, Beijing, say RSF and CPJ. Journalists have been temporarily detained and followed. RSF has recorded more than 40 serious violations of the rights of foreign journalists since the protests erupted on 10 March.

"The Chinese authorities are in the process of dealing with the problem of Tibetan demonstrations by means of force and silence," says RSF. "After ridding Tibet and the neighbouring regions of undesirable observers - foreign journalists and tourists - the security forces are crushing the protests without the international community being able to watch."

Meanwhile, lines of communication have been cut or heavily restricted. International radio stations have been jammed in Tibet and Internet café owners are being forced to increase the surveillance of clients to prevent photos and videos from being sent abroad, reports RSF. At the same time, telephone services are still subject to extensive disruptions.

Nor is the crackdown contained within China's borders. Police in Nepal broke up a protest near the UN offices in Kathmandu by hundreds of Tibetan refugees and monks on Monday. The protesters, who were demanding a UN investigation into the crackdown, were beaten with bamboo sticks and at least 40 were arrested, say news reports.

Human Rights Watch has urged Nepal to stop doing "Beijing's bidding" and end its crackdown on Tibetan exiles protesting against China. Nepal, home to thousands of Tibetan refugees, has said it will not allow protests against any "friendly nation," including China.

IFEX members RSF, CPJ, Human Rights Watch, as well as ARTICLE 19 and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) are demanding that the Chinese government lift its lockdown of all Tibetan areas and give media and independent observers full access.

Human Rights Watch and RSF are also calling for an independent investigation, ideally headed by the UN, into recent events in Tibet.

Visit these links:
- RSF on Olympia protests: http://tinyurl.com/ypzwt6- RSF on Tibet: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26290- ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/39gkzd- WAN: http://www.wan-press.org/article16744.html- Human Rights Watch Tibet page: http://www.hrw.org/doc/?t=tibet- IFEX Tibet page: http://tinyurl.com/yvwgr4- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/22vwdv- Free Tibet Campaign, with links to international news reports: http://www.freetibet.org/- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) China campaign: http://tinyurl.com/25d2l4- Open letter from 29 Chinese intellectuals proposing 12 suggestions on Tibet: http://tinyurl.com/ytpjzj- Sign a petition supporting the Dalai Lama's call for dialogue and human rights in Tibet: http://tinyurl.com/2ayed7(Photo: A protester from Reporters Without Borders is arrested during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Games in Olympia, Greece, on 24 March. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mal Langsdon)

(25 March 2008)

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