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Press Freedom Group Protests Chinese Olympic Crackdown


A press freedom group has protested the Chinese government's continued harassment and jailing of journalists, writers and media rights activists. Shortly after, Chinese police then proved their point by detaining about a dozen foreign journalists who covered the protest in Beijing. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

Members of the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders held a rare protest, outside the headquarters of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.

The group of four wore T-shirts and held signs depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs.

Robert Menard is the secretary-general of the Paris-based press freedom group. He says Beijing has failed to live up to its pledges to improve media freedom and human rights ahead of the Olympics.

"They made very concrete promises, but unfortunately, six years after, we have the impression .. that there are no real changes," Menard said.

China is the largest jailer of journalists in the world. The group says more than 30 journalists and writers are in prison in China along with thousands of other political prisoners.

The activist group says during a meeting with Chinese authorities in January they were promised one jailed Chinese writer would be released within two months and more would be released in the coming months. But half a year later they are all still in jail.

"It is not a call for boycott, it is just a call for action," he said. "We have one year to change many things here, especially the release of political prisoners ... It is not a boycott campaign, it is a call for action and respect for their own commitments."

Officials with the Organizing Committee for the Beijing Olympics say China welcomes critical voices in the media.

China's censors do not reflect that sentiment. They keep a tight grip on the domestic media, and block foreign Websites and broadcasts critical of the government. VOA's Website and broadcasts are frequently blocked in China.

This year a new media law went into effect to grant foreign journalists freedom to report throughout China until the end of the Olympics, without government interference.

But, shortly after the press freedom group's protest, more than 20 police detained about a dozen journalists for more than half an hour without explanation. Journalists' taxis were forced to pull over and police pushed reporters into a parking lot, taking their press cards and refusing to let them go.

Responding to a survey last month, foreign media representatives said although reporting conditions have improved somewhat since the new law, harassment of foreign correspondents, their staff, and sources remains common.

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