Thursday, 31 July 2008

Australia rebukes China over reporter internet censorship

By Samantha Maiden
The Australian

AUSTRALIA has scolded the IOC over a secret agreement to allow China to censor the internet for journalists covering the Olympics. The rebuke came as the US and China traded blows over human rights just eight days out from the Beijing Olympics after President George W. Bush met with Chinese dissidents at the White House.

China has created an international furore after it was revealed that International Olympic Committee officials had let Beijing off from a pledge to provide complete media freedom at the Games.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith urged China to be open and transparent and said Olympic officials were wise to apologise after they admitted China would not stop censoring internet access during the Beijing Games.

Sports Minister Kate Ellis also confirmed Australian authorities were working hard to resolve the "limitations" that Kevan Gosper, chairman of the IOC's press commission, has confirmed will apply to websites not connected with the Games.

Mr Gosper has apologised for misleading journalists, saying he was disappointed that China was blocking sites it deemed sensitive.

Mr Smith said today Australia had regularly urged China to be open and transparent and that included communications.

"I do see this morning the representatives of the Olympic committee apologising for their conduct," he told reporters in Canberra.

"On the basis of what I have read, that apology seemed like it was well worth giving and required to be given.''

Sports Minister Kate Ellis said she was hopeful the situation could be improved.

"The IOC believed that they had an agreement prior to the Games being granted to China so I think that is of concern. I know that John Coates has been out there being very active and I know that the IOC are going to continue to raise these issues and try to get a resolution,'' she said.

The MPs' comments came as the US ramped up pressure on China to live up to Olympic ideals with President George W. Bush promising the regime had "nothing to fear" from internet freedom.

"President Bush has long said that China has nothing to fear from greater access to the internet or to the press or from more religious freedom and human freedom and human rights," press secretary Dana Perino said.

"And that's one of the things that he talked about yesterday with the dissidents he met with, here at the White House.

"We want to see more access for reporters, we want to see more access for everybody in China to be able to have access to the internet." Perino said.

"We think that China would be enhanced and continue to prosper if they allowed for more freedom."

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives voted 419 to 1 to endorse a resolution asking China to "immediately end abuses of the human rights of its citizens, to cease repression of Tibetan and Uighur citizens, and to end its support for the governments of Sudan and Burma (Myanmar)."

The Chinese foreign ministry in turn, criticised a meeting between President Bush and leading Chinese dissidents at the White House this week, saying it sent a "seriously wrong message''.

"`We express strong discontent and firm opposition to this,'' foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement posted on his ministry's website late yesterday.

"By arranging such a meeting between its leader (Bush) and these people and making irresponsible remarks on China's human rights and its religious situation, the US side has rudely interfered in China's internal affairs and sent a seriously wrong message to hostile anti-China forces.''

In a separate statement, Liu lashed out at the congessional resolution. Liu said the resolution passed yesterday was an attempt to politicise the Olympics in Beijing and urged Washington to curb the "odious conduct'' of anti-Chinese legislators.

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