Letter to Rogge

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Letter to Rogge Slams IOC “Failures” On Eve Of Olympic Summit In Guatemala City

[London] On the eve of the 119th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session(1) in Guatemala City, Free Tibet Campaign has written a letter(2) to Jacques Rogge, President of the IOC, criticizing the IOC for its “failures to hold China to commitments made regarding human rights whilst China attempted to secure the 2008 Olympic Games”. The letter points to the insistence by China that any foreign journalist wishing to report from Tibet must obtain a special permit in advance and states that “the most serious failure of the IOC has been its refusal to hold China to its pledge to allow free reporting from China and Tibet in the run up to and during the Games. This was promised by China before Beijing was awarded the Games in 2001(3).”
The letter goes on to observe that the failure of the IOC to issue a public demand that China allows foreign reporters to report freely from Tibet as well as China “has only emboldened China to make it increasingly difficult for journalists to report on the continuing abuse of the most basic rights of the Tibetan people”, encouraging China to act with greater impunity in Tibet, free from the scrutiny of foreign journalists.

“The IOC’s own Olympic Charter(4) calls for media coverage of the Games to respect the Olympic values of ‘a way of life based on respect for universal fundamental ethical principles….. encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity’”, said Matt Whitticase of Free Tibet Campaign. “China’s determination to cover up the shameful truth of its occupation of Tibet from foreign journalists falls well short of such ideals and the IOC and the entire Olympic community gathered in Guatemala City should have no difficulty at all in making a public demand that the true values of Olympism be respected by the hosts of the 2008 Games”.

Notes to Editor:

The programme of events for the 119th session of the IOC in Guatemala City can be found at: http://www.olympic.org/uk/news/events/119_session/program_uk.asp

Full text of letter is contained below.

The official China Daily guaranteed full media freedoms in the run up to the IOC decision on which city would stage the 2008 Games: “The world’s media will enjoy full freedom to report on all aspects of China if the 2008 Olympic Games is held in the city” [Beijing]. Beijing Olympics Press Chief, Sun Weijia, said at a press briefing in September last year that “they [foreign journalists] can travel anywhere in China. There will be no restrictions.” (Reported by DPA, September 28, 2006).

http://www.joc.or.jp/olympic/charter/pdf/olympiccharter200300e.pdf

Letter to Jacques Rogge
July 3, 2007

Dear President Rogge,

The International Olympic Committee begins its 119th session tomorrow. It is our sincere hope that the IOC will use this opportunity to reverse its previous failures to hold China to commitments made regarding human rights whilst China attempted to secure the 2008 Olympic Games. This session allows the IOC, through you, to make an unequivocal demand that China must address substantively the problems caused by its human rights record before the Beijing Games begin.

Until now, the most serious failure of the IOC has been its refusal to hold China to its pledge to allow free reporting from China and Tibet in the run up to and during the Games. This was promised by China before Beijing was awarded the Games in 2001: the official China Daily stated that “the world’s media will enjoy full freedom to report on all aspects of China if the 2008 Olympic Games is held in the city”. The pledge was reinforced when Beijing Olympics Press Chief, Sun Weijia, said at a press briefing in September last year that “they [foreign journalists] can travel anywhere in China. There will be no restrictions.” (Reported by DPA, September 28, 2006).

Despite such pledges China has insisted that there will be restrictions on all journalists traveling to Tibet: foreign journalists must obtain a special permit prior to traveling there. Obtaining such a permit is difficult and designed to discourage journalists from attempting to travel to Tibet. Even if a permit can be obtained, China’s intimidatory attitude and its determination to make it impossible for journalists to report freely from Tibet is clear. In May 2007 the China correspondents of the Frankfurter Rundschau and US news chain Mclatchy were told that their recent reporting from Tibet had been a “mistake” by Zhang Lizhong, a division director at the foreign ministry’s information department. Both reporters were followed and harassed by Chinese plain-clothes police whilst in Tibet: (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22307).

To date, the IOC has made no public condemnation of China’s volte-face on its earlier pledge to allow free and unrestricted reporting, despite this being supposedly a key condition of the Games being awarded to Beijing. The IOC’s silence has only emboldened China to make it increasingly difficult for journalists to report on the continuing abuse of the most basic rights of the Tibetan people. What is Beijing trying to hide in Tibet? The monasteries and nunneries remain under strict state surveillance, their inhabitants routinely forced to denounce their revered leader, the Dalai Lama; and Tibetans attempting to flee from persecution in Tibet were shot at last year on the Himalayan pass, Nangpa La, leading to the confirmed death of at least one nun. Others were rounded up and detained. Credible eyewitness accounts have testified to the use of torture on those detained in the round-up, including children. Such stories, smuggled out of Tibet by refugees and travelers, is what Beijing wishes to hide from foreign journalists by making it effectively impossible for them to travel to Tibet.

The gathering of the international community in Guatemala City provides the IOC with one of its final opportunities before the Beijing Games to demonstrate that its commitment to the values of Olympism and the Olympic Charter is real. Such a commitment could easily be shown by the IOC demanding that China allows the free and unrestricted reporting from Tibet that was promised before the Games were granted to Beijing. The IOC’s failure to do so, until now, repudiates the Olympic Charter itself which states that media should “spread and promote the principles of Olympism” with “Olympism” defined in the Charter as “a way of life based on respect for universal fundamental ethical principles” and “encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”. Tolerance of a muzzled press, unable to report freely from Tibet, can hardly be considered to be promotion of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

A demand by the IOC for free reporting would be a first step towards exerting leverage on China in other areas such as censorship and the reform of repressive laws on the right to free expression. China is presently susceptible to such calls, anxious as it is for controversy not to dog the Games. And such calls could only strengthen the Olympic movement. Failure in Guatemala City, however, to address the growing unease felt in the international community at the repressive record of next year’s hosts of the Games will only weaken the values of Olympism in the eyes of the world.

Mr President, all those concerned with the preservation of human dignity will be watching the 119th session of the IOC in Guatemala City most carefully. We do hope that our hopes will not be dashed again.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Whitticase
Press Officer
Free Tibet Campaign