Beijing Olympics: China defies IOC to ban internet freedom
Beijing today defied concerns of the International Olympic Committee and press freedom groups by confirming that the internet at Games facilities would remain censored.
By Richard Spencer in Beijing
Officials were challenged as to why journalists and others trying to access the internet at the Media Press Centre, the Olympic Village and other venues were blocked from seeing sites including the BBC Chinese language service, other international media and human rights groups.
Sun Weide, the chief spokesman, acknowledged that sites would remain blocked, specifically those connected to falun gong, a religious movement which is heavily repressed in China.
“Falun gong is an evil cult so their sites are blocked and will remain so,” he said, though he refused to give specifics about other sites.
The International Olympics Committee says it is “concerned” about internet censorship, while acknowledging there is little it can do as long as sites pertaining to sport are left open.
“I will speak with the Chinese authorities to advise them of the restraints and to see what their reaction is,” said Kevan Gosper, the IOC member who heads its press commission.
Among the other sites inaccessible are some Hong Kong and Taiwanese newspapers, those of human rights groups such as Amnesty International, and most non-Chinese government sites relating to Tibet.
Giselle Davies, the IOC spokeswoman, said it had been aware of Chinese intentions to censor the internet but thought originally it would apply to pornography sites and other material regularly blocked in other countries.
Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, had previously pledged there would be no censorship in Beijing.
But Ms Davies said it became clear that there were “issues” with Beijing’s approach. “They have always made clear that some websites would be an issue, and we’re working with them to ensure the media face the minimum possible restrictions,” she said.
China is maintaining tight security across the city in the lead-up to the Games next week, despite hopes by the IOC that the Games would bring greater openness.
The authorities also announced yesterday that security checkpoints were being set up for tourists wishing to walk on to Tiananmen Square, which is normally accessed through underpasses from the surrounding main roads.
Among the greatest concerns is the possibility of protests on the Square, the most sensitive and surveilled public place in China since the student demonstrations of 1989. International broadcasters are still battling with the authorities over the extent to which they will be allowed to film there during the Games, in line with earlier promises.
Meanwhile, police leave has been cancelled to ensure “absolute security without a single lapse” in Tibet, one potential source of disturbances during the Games period, state media reported.