03/26/2008, 00.00
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Torch-lighting protest “disgraceful” for Beijing but total blackout on Chinese media

The torch-lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia is perturbed by activists’ protest. Beijing calls the incident “disgraceful” but Chinese TV does not broadcast it and Chinese papers do not report it. Just a few hours earlier Yang Chunlin, who said human rights were more important than the Games, got five years in jail.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – “The Olympic torch symbolises humankind's noble ideals and beautiful aspirations, and anyone who disturbs or sabotages the Olympic torch relay is disgraceful and lacks support,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news briefing on Tuesday as he vehemently slammed last Monday’s protest during the traditional sun-ray ceremony held the Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia (Greece) in which the Olympic torch was ignited.

Although the protests were seen around the world, in China there was a total blackout on the news; not a word about it appeared in China’s press the next day. Not much credibility can therefore be lent to Mr Qin when he said that the “one who should feel embarrassed is not China, but these elements of sabotage and chaos.

During the ceremony a member of the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) went up to Communist Party Beijing Committee Secretary Liu Qi, who was reading a prepared speech, and unfolded a flag with the Olympic rings replaced by handcuffs and a statement against those who despise human rights. Another RSF member also tried to take over the microphone. Both were stopped by police but cameras were rolling and caught the incident on tape.

In China however the ceremony was broadcast with a short delay rather than live as announced; the programme was interrupted without explanations for a few seconds right after Liu began his speech with archive material shown instead.

The next day China’s press focused on the event, giving a detailed, almost lyrical, account of the ceremony but not a word about the protest, or the Tibetan woman who threw herself on the ground in front of the torch-bearer. Chinese newspapers did not however hold back from attacking foreign media for their distortions and even dishonesty about protests in Tibet.

Still problems are appearing on the horizon for the torch relay. Human rights groups are against it going through Tibet as long as the region is off-limits to tourists and journalists.

Pro-Tibet activist have pledged protest actions when it travels to countries like the United Kingdom and Australia.

In the United Kingdom British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that Britain would allow Tibetan protesters to stage a demonstration when the Olympic flame comes to London on 6 April.

Also last Monday land rights defender and Olympics critic Yang Chunlin was sentenced to five years in prison for inciting subversion of state power. Mr Yang, who has been in prison since 6 July 2007, was found guilty of organising a letter campaign entitled ‘We want human rights, not the Olympics.’

On the same day, as the Olympic torch was lit in Greece and Yang was sentenced, IOC Chairman Jacques Rogge stated that “the Games have advanced the agenda of human rights” in China.

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