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Human Rights Abuses Increase in China, Olympic Protester Says

Ongoing violence in Tibet is another example of how China ignores human rights, Reporters Without Borders told DW-WORLD.DE. The Paris-based media group called for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic opening ceremony.

Julliard being arrested

Julliard being taken into police custody during the torch-lighting ceremony

Jean-Francois Julliard is the head of research at Reporters Without Borders. Along with two colleagues, Julliard was arrested on Monday, March 24 at the official Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece after unfurling a banner calling attention to the state of human rights in China.

The three were arrested by Greek police for holding banners featuring handcuffs in the shape of the Olympic rings during a speech by Liu Qi, the president of the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee.

After being detained for 10 hours and charged with offending a national symbol, the three demonstrators were released on bail. A trial is scheduled for May 29. Julliard is now back in Paris.

DW-WORLD.DE: You were arrested yesterday for protesting at the Olympic torch lighting ceremony. What were you trying to bring attention to?

Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou, playing the role of a high priestess, passes on the Olympic flame lit with a concave mirror to another priestess, near the Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia

The Olympic torch began its journey to China on Monday

Jean-Francois Julliard: We did it because the situation of human rights and press freedom in China is getting worse. Chinese authorities made some promises when they were chosen to host the Olympic Games in 2001 and they have not respected any of them.

There are more journalists and Internet users detained now than there were in 2001. Chinese authorities do not want to improve the situation of human rights before the Olympic Games.

We have less than five months until the opening ceremony in Beijing and we have to use this period to put pressure on Chinese authorities and to raise the issue of human rights violations in China.

Does that mean your actions had nothing to do with the recent protests in Tibet?

We planned this weeks ago. So even if nothing had happened in Tibet we would have still held the same demonstration. The situation in Tibet is just one more piece of evidence that Chinese authorities are not ready to make any improvements, to let journalists walk freely in China or let the Tibetan people demonstrate peacefully.

You were arrested, charged and later released on bail by the Greek authorities. What were you were charged with?

Policemen detain a protester as he holds a banner at the beginning of the flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2008 games in ancient Olympia, Greece, on Monday March 24, 2008

Authorities said banners like this offend Greek national symbols

We were detained for 10 hours and then presented to a prosecutor. We were charged with offending a national symbol because we used the Olympic symbol on our flag. This is why we have been charged according to Greek penal code and we face one year prison terms and fines.

Of course, Greece is a European Union country so we cannot imagine that we will be sentenced to prison terms because we demonstrated during the torch-lighting ceremony. But there will be a trial late May. We will go back to Greece to attend the trial because we want to use it to once again raise the issue of the situation of human rights in China a few months before the Olympics start.

Are you planning to attend the Olympics?

We would like to very much but, no, we cannot. We tried to enter China in December. We went to Hong Kong and asked for visas and we were denied. So I think that we are blacklisted now in China.

Many people say that the Olympics should be kept separate from politics. What are your opinions on that issue?

Tibetan demonstrators stand in front of the International Olympic Committee, IOC, headquarter in Lausanne, Switzerland, Tuesday May 15, 2001, calling for Beijing to be refused the right to stage the 2008 Olympic Games

A boycott of the opening ceremony would send a strong signal to Beijing

It is a good thing that there is this debate and we think it is a positive step. We think that the situation is going to change in the next few weeks. The French president just said this morning [Tuesday, March 25] that every option is open. So maybe he will agree to boycott the opening ceremony. Maybe he will just make a strong statement. We do not know.

You do not support a total boycott of the games but you do support a boycott of the opening ceremony?

We think that a total boycott would sanction the athletes and the competitors have no responsibility. They are not the ones that decided to hold the Olympic Games in China so they should not be punished for that. But we ask heads of state, heads of government, members of royal families not to attend the opening ceremony.

It would be a very significant gesture to say to the Chinese authorities that we are going to attend the Olympic Games, we are going to attend sport events, but we are not going to attend the political event which is the opening ceremony.

Do you think there is a danger this kind of political action will make China take an even harder line?

No, because the line cannot get harder. We waited for months before we did what we did. We were patient. We tried to have positive discussions with Chinese authorities, but it was not successful, it was not useful at all. So no, we could not wait any longer.

Are you planning any further protests?

I can't tell you now, but, of course, we plan to use the torch relay to do a lot. The torch will cross through cities all over the world, and we hope there will be a lot of demonstrations. The torch will be in London and Paris over the next 10 days so maybe that will be our next step.

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