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Despite guarantees for freedom of expression in Chinese domestic law and promises for a "free and open" Olympics, the past few years have seen increasing crackdowns on press freedom in China. HRIC continues to receive reports of domestic Chinese journalists being denied access to stories, including through physical harassment and even detention. There are also increasing reports of foreign journalists being physically harassed by "unidentified thugs," seemingly with the collusion of authorities. News reports published abroad suggest that deepening social unrest in China's countryside may be one impetus behind the government's renewed efforts to tighten control over media coverage. Control is further extended over the media by requiring permission to cover historic events or anniversaries involving figures seen as controversial or politically sensitive. (See other HRIC publications concerning press freedom and censorship.)

The government's effort to control information has also extended to the Internet and other communication methods. On the Internet, authorities close blogs, filter websites, and tighten controls on e-mails and text messages. Television is also censored with restrictions on content. The fear of censure and reprisals has resulted in a culture of self-censorship that may have an even more damaging effect on Chinese society.

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Freedom of Expression in Chinese Domestic Law

The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in Chinese domestic laws including the Chinese Constitution (English / Chinese), which states:

Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.

— Article 35, PRC Constitution

However, the internal contradictions and tensions in domestic law provisions, including the interaction with the extensive state secrets system, and the failure to consistently implement these provisions, deny Chinese citizens the protection of these rights and undermine the development of rule of law.

In the past two decades China has become an increasingly active member of the international community, signing and ratifying numerous human rights treaties setting forth freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to information. China is obliged as well by these international treaties to implement and monitor these specific rights.

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Free and Open Olympics

The Organizing Committee for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games issued the "Beijing Olympic Action Plan" in 2002, which laid out guiding principles and a series of promises as part of Beijing's preparation to be the host city. Specifically the Plan promised:

In the preparation for the Games, we will be open in every aspect to the rest of the country and the whole world. We will draw on the successful experience of others and follow the international standards and criteria.

— Beijing Olympic Action Plan

In an effort to uphold this promise for a Free and Open Olympics, the "Regulations on Reporting Activities in China by Foreign Journalists During the Beijing Olympic Games and the Preparatory Period," (English / Chinese) were passed, coming into effect in January 2007. Notably, the Measures provided numerous freedoms for foreign journalists, requiring that they obtain prior consent only from individuals they interview. In May 2007 a "Service Guide for Foreign Media Coverage of the Beijing Olympic Games and the Preparatory Period" was issued to provide more details on implementing the Regulations. However, these measures only apply to foreign journalists, denying domestic journalists the same opportunities. Further, the Measures are not permanent, and are set to expire two months after the start of the Games on October 17, 2008.
Increasingly ... foreign journalists are reporting harassment by plain-clothed 'thugs.'

Even with these new measures in place, foreign journalists are reporting incidents where their work has been hindered by local officials who are either unaware of or unwilling to implement the new measures.[1] And increasingly, even foreign journalists are reporting harassment by plain-clothed "thugs." Increased efforts are needed by authorities at both the local and national level if China is to meet its Olympics Promises.

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HRIC Advocacy and Media Work on Press Freedom

Below is a listing of HRIC advocacy and media work, including press release, statements, and case updates. To subscribe to HRIC's press list, please e-mail communications@hrichina.org with "SUBSCRIBE" as the subject heading.
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Other HRIC Publications
  • State Secrets: China's Legal Labyrinth - A 280-page report examining how China's complex and opaque state secrets system sweeps a vast universe of information into the state secrets net. The report makes available an extensive compilation of laws, regulations and official documents, many in English translation for the first time, and details how China's wholesale classification of information has a powerful chilling effect on freedom of expression and the media. (Published June 2007)

  • "Why China Needs a Press and Publications Law," by Li Pu and Wang Jianxun - The recent banning of eight books through informal and arbitrary means demonstrates the need for China to formulate a press and publications law to protect freedom of expression from arbitrary official whim. (China Rights Forum, No.2 2007)

  • China, Technology and Human Rights - A resource list providing a wide range of information related to China's development in information and communication technologies (ICT) and human rights protection. (China Rights Forum, No.2 2006)

  • Resource List: The Internet, China, and Human Rights (China Rights Forum, No.3 2004)

  • "Media Control in China," by He Qinglian - Translated excerpts from a book-length report written by He Qinglian and published in Chinese by HRIC. Media Control in China describes how China's much-lauded economic modernization has allowed the government to camouflage its pervasive control under the glossy facade of consumerism, with a shift from ham-fisted censorship to an elaborate architecture of Party supervision, amorphous legislation, stringent licensing mechanisms, handpicked personnel and concentrated media ownership. The two excerpts examine control through the intimidation of journalists and restrictions on media ownership. (China Rights Forum, No.1 2004)

  • Resource List: A list of Internet resources relating to education and Xinjiang (China Rights Forum, No.1 2004)

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[1] For more information, please see the August 2007 survey by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, Foreign Correspondents: China yet to fulfill Olympic pledge of free media coverage, harassment still common, available at http://www.fccchina.org/when/FCCCSURVEYAUG2007.PDF.

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