Jailing Journalists Is Not The Olympic Spirit

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes the release from prison of another senior journalist in China, Yu Huafeng, on February 8.
Yu, 39, served four years of an eight-year sentence for corruption, and was released in the southern city of Panyu. The former deputy editor and general manager of the Southern Metropolis Daily, which is owned by the Guangdong provincial government, was arrested in 2004 and originally received a 12-year sentence, which was reduced on appeal.

Two of Yu’s colleagues - Li Minying and Cheng Yizhong - were also arrested in 2004 on similar allegations. Cheng was freed in August 2004 after an investigation and Li was freed in early 2007.

All three worked for the Guangdong-based Southern Metropolis Daily, known for reporting controversial news, including the death of a university student in police custody and the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) before China’s authorities reported it to the World Health Organisation.

Yu’s new-won freedom follows the release of Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based correspondent for Singapore’s The Straits Times, and Li Changqing, the former editor of Fuzhou Daily, earlier this month.

However, the IFJ said China was maintaining a hard line on freedom of expression and the rights of journalists. Last week, freelance writer and democracy activist Lu Gengsong was jailed in Hangzhou for four years. He was accused of "inciting subversion of state power".

The IFJ urged authorities in China to absolve the penalties and convictions recorded against Yu and all other journalists in his predicament, and it called on the international community not to bow to pressure from China to turn a blind eye to violations of the rights of journalists and others in the lead-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.

“On securing the 2008 Olympic Games, China’s authorities pledged to respect human rights. Those rights include freedom of expression, freedom of the media and the right to justice in the conduct of legal proceedings,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

“The IFJ urges the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to act on its obligation to ensure that the host of the Games fulfills its commitment and to ensure human rights abuses are not masked by glib reference to the ‘Olympic spirit’. The ‘Olympic spirit’ does not justify repression and abuse of human rights.”

Concerns about freedom of expression in China and internationally were deepened by reports this week that the British Olympic Association (BOA) warned British athletes not to speak out publicly on sensitive issues in China. The BOA has since softened its position, but a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organising committee is reported as saying that athletes participating in the Games will be expected to follow the Olympic Charter, which outlaws political acts.

“The international community must not conspire with China in its efforts to silence critics, including critics who happen to be sportspeople, as well as local and international journalists,” Ms Park said.

 “The fact is that as athletes around the world and in China prepare for the Games, China’s authorities are detaining and clamping down on critics at home. Many journalists, writers and human rights defenders remain in jail in China after undergoing unjust legal processes. They must be freed.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries