Some Web sites blocked at China Olympic press center

Journalists connecting to the Internet at the Beijing International Media Center (BIMC) are discovering that despite promises of an open reporting environment, China is still blocking access to some Web sites.

"I was at the BIMC this morning and I was unable to access Amnesty [International]'s site and a couple of others, including a Falun Gong site and Human Rights Watch," said Jonathan Watts, president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) and a correspondent for U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

"These Internet controls are contrary to the host's promises of a free reporting environment, and they also contradict IOC assurances that reporters who come to Beijing will be able to do their job just as they were able to do so at previous Olympics. How can this be the case when they are unable to access many sites that are critical of the authorities," Watts said in an interview.

"Unfortunately this is an all too familiar experience for foreign journalists and other Internet users in China. Now thousands of visiting reporters will get to see first-hand the reality of Internet controls in China," he said.

Another reporter, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that those three sites were blocked, along with the Chinese-language sites for the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corp., and Hong Kong-based newspaper Apple Daily.

These observations confirm earlier reports that some sites were blocked at the BIMC, the headquarters for accredited journalists for the Beijing Olympics, which begin August 8. IDG News Service in Beijing achieved the same results from a standard home Internet connection in another part of Beijing.

A representative from China Netcom, the official provider of broadband and other fixed-line telecommunications for the Olympics, including the BIMC, could not immediately be reached for comment.

China issued new regulations for foreign reporters on January 1, 2007, designed to create greater press freedom during the run-up to the Olympics. However, the FCCC said that between that date and July 8, it had logged 259 incidents of interference with reporting activities of foreign journalists in China.

In April, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) received assurances from the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) that it would allow unfettered Internet access. "We were satisfied by the assurances we received across a number of areas -- media service levels, including Internet access, brand protection, environmental contingency plans for improved air quality, and the live broadcast feed," IOC Coordination Commission Chairman Hein Verbruggen said at the time.

China routinely blocks access to Web sites it deems inappropriate, including those containing pornography, violence, magic and superstition themes, and especially anti-government material, such as those critical of the Chinese Communist Party or supporting independence for Taiwan, Tibet, or Xinjiang.

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