China Must Not Let Its Brief Democratic Light Go Out

From the Independent:

There was something rather inappropriate about the timing of yesterday’s solar eclipse, some of the best views of which could be seen in China. There was darkness over the territory of the 2008 Olympic host just as the government in Beijing was relaxing its policy of censoring the internet and allowing a shaft of light into this still largely closed society. International journalists in the Chinese capital turned on their computers and found themselves able to access previously blocked websites run by, among others, Amnesty International and the BBC.

Actually, we should not get carried away by this move from the Chinese government. All the signs are that this relaxation will be temporary, probably for the duration of the Games. It is patchy too. Only parts of Beijing and a few cities seem to have been granted wider internet access. And there is no indication that the regime’s assiduous corps of web censors is to be called off.

Below are news on this topic yesterday:

From Washington Post:

The International Olympic Committee and the Chinese government acknowledged Wednesday that reporters covering the Olympics will be blocked from accessing Internet sites that Chinese authorities consider politically sensitive.

The avowed censorship, although standard procedure for China’s millions of Internet users, contradicted pledges made earlier by IOC and Chinese officials that the estimated 20,000 journalists and technicians due in Beijing next week for the Olympic Games would have unfettered Web access. It was the latest in a series of steps taken by Chinese authorities reneging on promises they made seven years ago, when Beijing was granted the Games, to allow free reporting during the Olympics.

In response, the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders issued a guide on how to use proxy servers to get around China’s censorship. The Web-based guide also advised reporters covering the Games, which begin Aug. 8, that their telephone calls and e-mails are liable to be monitored by Chinese security agencies.

Read also Advice for foreign journalists covering human rights situation during Beijing Games by Reporters Without Borders:

1. Install programmes on your computer that will help you to circumvent firewalls and protect your communications. Before going to China, you should install Tor (www.torproject.org/index.html.en), Psiphon (http://psiphon.civisec.org/) or Proxify (https://proxify.com/). The international version of Skype is recommended, rather than the one available in China, which is not secure. It is also advisable to encrypt emails with PGP (http://www.pgpi.org). More information is available in the Reporters Without Borders Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents: http://www.rsf.org./article.php3?id_article=26187

2. Protect your computer against Trojan viruses and ensure that it is password-protected. Do not leave your equipment and contact lists in an accessible condition in a hotel room.

3. When making phone calls or sending emails, bear in mind that there is no guarantee of confidentiality. Use several SIM cards, especially when contacting “sensitive” people.

4. Before leaving to China, get the contact details of Chinese human rights activists, lawyers and relatives of prisoners of conscience. Reporters Without Borders can provide journalists with lists of people willing to talk to the foreign press.

5. Do not use the services of Chinese companies that offer interpreters and guides. These companies are linked to the government and their employees could easily try to prevent you from investigating sensitive issues or could endanger your sources. Try to use the services of Chinese interpreters and fixers who are freelancers, or foreign journalists who speak Chinese.

6. Take the following with you when you go out reporting: the Chinese-language version of the rules for foreign journalists, your embassy’s contact details, photocopies of your ID documents and press accreditation, and the phone numbers of BOCOG and the Chinese foreign ministry.

7. Monitor the following independent Chinese-language sources of news about China: the BBC in Chinese (http://news.bbc.co.uk/chinese), Radio Free Asia in Chinese (www.rfa.org/mandarin) and Boxun (www.boxun.com).

8. Any violation of your freedom of movement and right to interview should be reported to your embassy, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (www.fccchina.org) and Reporters Without Borders. It should also be reported to BOCOG and the IOC. In the event of any conflict with the authorities, use the legal hotline set up by Chinese lawyer Li Baiguang (139 108 02 896 or olympic@lawyer.com).

9. Read the Reporters’ Guide to China that has been written by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China.

Update 1: According to Australia’s ABC News, individual members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are angered by the censorship and questioning China’s right to hold the Games. See also “Beijing’s Forgotten Promises” from cecc.gov.

Update 2 (2008.08.01 13:40 Beijing Time): It now appears the IOC has told Reuters will enforce Internet freedom for Western journalists during the Olympics after all. “The issue has been solved,” [Gunilla] Lindberg [IOC vice-president] said. “The IOC Coordination Commission and BOCOG met last night and agreed. Internet use will be just like in any Olympics.”

Also from Xinhua: Chinese gov’t won’t allow spread of illegal information online.