31 Jul 2008

Limits on internet access breach Beijing's Games pledge

6:55 pm on 31 July 2008

Foreign journalists will be denied completely free access to the internet during the Olympic Games in Beijing next week, say Chinese authorities.

A spokesperson for the Games' organising committee says certain websites will remain blocked, including those linked to the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Sun Weide says Falun Gong movement is an "evil cult" outlawed by the Chinese government.

Access to websites belonging to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the BBC are also blocked in Beijing.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International published a report saying the human rights situation in China had got worse since the Games were awarded to Beijing.

When China made its Olympic bid seven years ago, it promised totally unrestricted internet access.

A senior official at the International Olympic Committee says he will raise the matter with the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, a teacher from China's earthquake-hit southwest has been sentenced to a year of detention after photographing some of the schools that toppled, killing thousands of children, says Human Rights in China.

The human rights group says Liu Shaokun was sentenced to "re-education through labour" on charges of "inciting a disturbance". Labour re-education is a form of imprisonment that does not require a trial and is not open to usual court appeals.

More than 87,000 people were killed or are missing as a result of the quake on 12 May. The dead included many children trapped in school buildings parents later said were weak because of shoddy materials and lax safety checks.

The grieving parents' complaints of official corruption behind the collapsed schools were initially reported by local Chinese media. But as the government readies for the Olympic Games, it has sought to silence criticism and protests.

The New York-based Human Rights in China says Liu was a victim of that crackdown. "These actions further undermine human rights and the 'peaceful Olympics' called for by the authorities, and reflect an irresponsible callousness towards the Sichuan earthquake victims."

Meanwhile, Iraq will be allowed to take part in the Games after the International Olympic Committee overturned an earlier decision to ban it.

The decision came after last-minute talks in Switzerland, during which Iraq promised to hold free elections for its national Olympic committee under international observation.