The general director of Germany's Olympic Sports Federation, Michael Vesper, compared China's censorship of Web sites to Germany's stance toward neo-Nazis. Politicians, especially on the left, don't see the similarity.
Security is tight in China -- also on the Internet
Vesper's remarks came on a weekend television show devoted to world politics.
"There are far-right Internet pages that we block, and of course, it's also the case in China that some sites are blocked," Vesper told the Weltspiegel program on German public television.
That drew bewilderment and condemnation from politicians concerned about restrictions on freedom of the press during Beijing Summer Games.
"We're not talking here about Internet pages with prosecutable content -- we're talking about Amnesty International," Peter Dankert, the Social Democratic chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Sports, told the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper.
Others seconded those statements, saying Vesper had gotten his priorities backward.
"Instead of making demands of the Chinese side, Vesper has trivialized and justified China's behavior," Green parliamentarian Volker Beck told the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger.
The Organization Reporters Without Borders also called Vesper's statement "unspeakable."
Vesper's remarks have gotten him in hot water
Vesper said the furor resulting from his remarks was a "misunderstanding."
"I've always opposed censorship in China -- to accuse me of the opposite is unfair, wrong and absurd," Vesper told newspaper Tagesspiegel.
He added that he was only trying to point out that Web sites are blocked all over the world.
The International Olympic Committee has come in for increasing criticism recently for failing to confront the Chinese government about Internet censorship.
Critics say Olympic officials are allowing China to wriggle out of guarantees concerning freedom of the press and freedom of speech that were made when Beijing was originally awarded the right to host the 2008 Summer Games.
DW-WORLD.DE is among the sites that have been blocked in China
Meanwhile, the German government's conservative Envoy for Human Rights, Guenther Nooke, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, August 5 for a four-day visit.
He's planning to meet with human rights activists, academics, and media and religious representatives. He is not scheduled to confer with Chinese government officials.
But the first German athlete is sending a direct political message to China's political leadership. Fencer Imke Duplitzer says she will not be attending the opening ceremonies on Friday August 8.
"I don't have to accede to this sort of thing," Dupitzer told the German television news station N24. "If I wanted to go to the circus, I would have gone to Roncalli."