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Internet censorship and muted athletes in China

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China’s internet censorship caused a storm in international media in recent days. Foreign journalists in Beijing were livid that they didn’t have unhindered access to the internet. China had blocked critical websites like Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the Chinese Services of the BBC or Germany’s Deutsche Welle. And this despite official assurances that international journalists would have unhindered access to the internet in Beijing.

The stories the international journalists sent to their media back home were bad press for China. Consequently, the censors unblocked some of the critical websites.

Unfortunately, these sites have only been unblocked for international journalists. Chinese journalists or average Chinese users still can’t access websites that the Chinese leadership considers dangerous (including all of WordPress).

In an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk, the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, picked up on this fact on August 4, 2008.

[Poettering] We must have freedom of information, and not just for non-Chinese journalists, but also for journalists from China itself. I am very happy about the reaction of the international media in recent days. It shows the strength of our pluralistic society, which assesses itself in terms of our values, which also include freedom of the press and freedom of information. If through this publicity we move closer towards China gradually opening up, then we have won a great deal.

[Deutschlandfunk] You say this passage in the Olympic Charter, where the political neutrality of the athletes is stated, must go…

[Poettering] The part of the Olympic Charter where it says that the athletes should not express themselves, that they should not voice any criticism, no longer fits in the world of the 21st century. Today we are a globally connected information society.
The Olympic Games shouldn’t lead to people having to put on a muzzle. We have to talk about human rights. And if the Olympic Charter says that human dignity should be respected, it must also be possible to appropriately express this.

We want to make our contribution to the Beijing Olympics being a success, but not at the price that freedom of information and human dignity are not addressed. We must be consistent. Because if we abandon human dignity, if we abandon freedom of information, we call into question the foundations and values of our own society. We say yes to the people, to human dignity, also to the dignity of the Tibetans and many minorities in China, and yes to freedom of information. We shouldn’t retreat from that position.

I am not calling for anything from the athletes, but I would like to encourage those who would like to speak out on events to do that. This also corresponds to the freedom of individuals to express themselves as they wish. I encourage you if you would like to speak out in appropriate forms, then speak about what bothers you, what is on your mind. And no one can prohibit that, no functionary of any side whatever.

I believe that in a free society we all have the duty to speak out when it comes to the defense of human rights, of human dignity, freedom of information.

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Written by Thorsten

August 6, 2008 at 12:48 pm

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