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International PEN calls for collaboration: China, the Olympics and free expression advocacy

In the lead-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, several IFEX members have launched campaigns to monitor, mobilise and advocate for free expression in China, where authorities have jailed and restricted journalists, political essayists and bloggers. There has been shared concern by various IFEX members that Chinese citizens working for domestic and foreign news agencies , and foreign correspondents, will be at risk when covering the event and reporting on politically sensitive stories around the Games.

In order to ensure that freedom of expression is upheld around this high-profile international event and to draw attention to ongoing human rights abuses carried out by the host government, IFEX members have dedicated resources to campaigning around these issues. Opportunities for support and collaboration across the network exist to realize various campaigning goals, as demonstrated by the examples highlighted below.

Carl Morten Iversen, a member of International PEN's campaign steering group, explains the organisation's campaign strategy and makes a call to seek further collaboration with other IFEX members to maximise impact.

International PEN, like several other international human rights NGOs, is currently planning a comprehensive campaign focusing on human rights and freedom of expression infringements in connection with the August 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The kind of leverage that the Olympic Games represent for the international free expression community towards Chinese authorities cannot be ignored. Already at the bi-annual PEN Writers in Prison conference in Istanbul in March 2006, ideas for a China campaign were launched. The plans were later confirmed at the International PEN World Congress in Berlin in May and an international steering group has now been established.

The idea is to focus on freedom of expression infringements in China from March through December 2008 in order to monitor any changes regarding Chinese authorities´ stifling of dissident voices. The campaign will run both on an international and local level. International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) is planning a number of activities, including a campaign website and a possible mission in September-October 2007. Within their fields of expertise and local capacity, PEN centres around the world will follow up with letter campaigns and information specially targeted at journalists and athletes.

Campaign strategy was also one of the themes at a regional Asia-Pacific PEN conference in Hong Kong, held from 2 to 5 February 2007. At a special session attended by several Chinese writers and representatives from Chinese PEN centres, the plans for the campaign received unanimous support. The Chinese participants stressed the importance of sending an International PEN delegation as soon as possible and that this delegation should try to meet with Chinese dissidents and imprisoned writers as well as with Chinese authorities. The importance of providing comprehensive information about the campaign to a number of recipients, including international media, embassies in Beijing and their human rights officers, schools and universities focusing on Chinese relations, etc. and also openness about this information campaign, was also underlined by the Chinese writers.

The campaign steering group is also seeking information from other groups planning similar campaigns, with a particular view to possible cooperation.

For more information please contact:
Carl Morten Iversen, Member of campaign steering group, International PEN and Secretary General, Norwegian PEN
Tel: + 47 22479220, (mobile): + 47 926 88 023, fax: + 47 22479201, e-mail: [email protected]

See other IFEX member's campaigns for freedom of expression around the 2008 Olympic Games in China:

Committee to Protect Journalists November 2006 visit to the International Olympic Committee:

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