China criticized at Gothenburg press summit

World newspaper chiefs gathering in Gothenburg called Monday on China to free immediately all journalists currently jailed in the country as the Beijing Olympic approach.

“The World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum (WEF) once again call for their immediate release,” WEF head George Brock said at the opening of the annual joint congress of the two bodies, which is being held in Sweden for the first time.

The WAN has awarded its Golden Pen of Freedom this year to a Chinese journalist for the second year in succession.

Li Changqing was imprisoned for revealing an outbreak of dengue fever that the authorities had not disclosed. Though released in February, he was not allowed to come to Gothenburg to receive his prize.

According to the WAN, which represents 18,000 newspapers in 102 countries, more than 30 journalists and 50 “cyber-dissidents” — online writers — are currently detained in China.

“In fact, China is pursuing its crackdown on freedom of expression even now, a few weeks before the Olympic Games,” Brock said.

“China has the dubious distinction of being the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.”

Brock added: “Despite the promises it made in its successful Olympic bid to improve conditions for journalists, China has continued its repressive policies, cynically believing that neither the Olympic movement nor the international community expects them to honour their promises of reform.”

In most countries, Li would be celebrated and honoured for his work, Brock said. “In China, disclosing such facts is an imprisonable offence.”

Li, a journalist on southern China’s Fuzhou Daily, was sentenced to three years in prison in January 2006 for “fabricating and publishing false news.”

In a message read on his behalf at Monday’s award ceremony, Li said that “China is a land that needs to be travelled by voices of conscience and a nation that needs to be saved by the truth.”

The award of the Golden Pen of Freedom “inevitably greatly inspires the journalists in China to resume their faith in professional dignity and speed up the process of promoting freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” he said.

In November the WAN condemned Chinese censorship ahead of the Olympics.

The association especially criticized Beijing “for failing to live up to the press freedom commitments it made when it sought the 2008 Olympic Games.”

Last year’s Golden Pen of Freedom award went to Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was jailed after revealing that Beijing had clamped down on media coverage of the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of anti-government protesters.