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China: Extend New Media Rules to Chinese Reporters

October 23, 2008

Human Rights Watch
October 22, 2008

For Immediate Release
China: Extend New Media Rules to Chinese Reporters
Lifting of Restrictions a Step Forward for Free Expression
Washington, DC, October 22, 2008

If fully implemented, Beijing's decision to permanently enshrine in
law key provisions of its Olympics-related temporary regulations on
foreign media could herald a less restrictive reporting climate in
China, Human Rights Watch said today.

Announced on October 17, the new 23-point regulation signals the
Chinese government's acceptance of basic reporting rights, including
the freedom of foreign correspondents to interview any consenting
interviewee without official permission, and creates a permanent
measurable standard of foreign media freedom in China.

"This decision marks an important step forward in the battle for
freedom of expression in China," said Sophie Richardson, Asia
advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But the struggle will
continue until all journalists -- particularly Chinese journalists --
have full freedom to report and exercise their rights under the
Chinese constitution and international law."

The temporary regulations on foreign media freedom were originally in
effect from January 1, 2007 to October 17, 2008. The Olympic rules
had explicitly removed a long-standing regulatory handcuff of
requiring foreign correspondents to secure government permission for
interviews with Chinese citizens and for travel outside of Beijing
and Shanghai. However, Human Rights Watch and other press freedom
organizations extensively documented incidents of harassment,
detentions, and physical abuse by government officials and security
forces in violation of the temporary regulations
( ). These abuses were not investigated, and the
temporary regulations never applied to Chinese journalists.

Although Article 35 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of
China specifically guarantees freedom of the press, China's reporters
remain hostage to the dictates of the official propaganda system. At
least 26 journalists are in prison due to their work, many on
ambiguous charges including "revealing state secrets," for having
done nothing more than written or posted articles critical of China's
political system.

Human Rights Watch pointed out that restrictions on and abuses of
Chinese journalists are discriminatory in light of the new freedoms
offered foreign media under the new permanent regulation on foreign
media freedom.

"Particularly because reporting freedom can help bring to light
public health, environmental, and corruption problems, we hope the
Chinese government will see the wisdom of granting Chinese
journalists the same rights as foreign reporters," Richardson said.

Human Rights Watch said that another important way to signal
commitment to press reforms would be to investigate past violations
of reporting rights, including death threats against foreign
correspondents in the run-up to the Olympics. Beijing should also
drop restrictive provisions in the permanent regulations which still
require foreign correspondents to apply for official permission to
visit certain areas in China, particularly Tibetan areas. Such
restrictions have prevented the international community from having a
complete understanding of events in the region in the aftermath of
the violence which swept through the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in March 2008.

"Beijing's commitment to defending journalists' right to report will
be unassailable when these new regulations are consistently upheld
and finally extended to China's own growing domestic press corps,"
Richardson said.
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