Job Description: Provocateur | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 14.05.2008
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Job Description: Provocateur

When it concerns human rights, Robert Ménard does not mince words. For over 20 years the Frenchman has been fighting for press freedom with his organization Reporters Without Borders.


Robert Ménard

Robert Ménard is proud of the scars he carries on his body. They are witness to his campaign for human rights. Staging spectacular actions he calls attention worldwide to press censorship and the imprisonment of journalists.

For quite a while Ménard's fight has no longer been exclusively focused to the media sector. However, the motto of his organization, Reporters Without Borders, remains "No freedom without press freedom."

Since Beijing was selected to host the 2008 Olympic Games, Reporters Without Borders has been protesting China's hosting of the games. The watchdog groups has made the symbol of the Olympic rings in the form of intertwined handcuffs known all over the world.

On March 24, Ménard jumped in front of the cameras in Athens waving a flag with that symbol and disturbed the lighting of the Olympic flame. Ménard is convinced that one cannot separate sports and politics. For him, the president of the Olympic committee must take responsibility.

China-Europe business connections affects EU

Demonstrant mit kritischer Beijing Fahne

Ménard was detained at the flame-lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia, Greece

"Jacques Rogge does not achieve anything because he does not demand anything," said Ménard, adding that Rogge always says he is the organizer of a big sports event and that one should not ask him about human rights because he is not involved in politics.

Ménard has a different opinion on politics and sports.

"The decision for Beijing was of course also a political decision," he said.

Ménard called on politicians of the European Union to jointly boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing -- directing his appeal especially toward French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy will represent Europe as president of the European Council at the time of the opening ceremony.

"One can not pretend as if human rights were invented in Europe by Europeans and then simply forget about them when the moment does not seem to fit," said Ménard. "It is clear that this is annoying for European governments. They are obsessed with one thing, which is to do business with the Chinese."

Access to China is blocked

From Cameroon to Kosovo and Tunisia to Cuba, Robert Ménard has been to almost every country positioned on the lower ranks of the media freedom index, a worldwide ranking of media freedom published yearly by Reporters Without Borders.

Bdt Der chinesische Präsident Hu Jintao hat die olympische Fackel

Will Chinese President Hu Jintao bow to Western pressure on press freedoms?

However, critics find fault with the fact that Ménard rarely speaks out on censorship and press concentration in Western countries. A book published in 2007 even implies that his organization is financed with the help of the CIA -- an accusation Ménard calls ridiculous.

He explained that Reporters Without Borders is mostly self-financed through the sale of photo books and merchandising. T-shirts with the handcuffs alone have brought in 1 million euros ($1.6 million) to date.

The feedback makes Ménard hopeful for an improvement of the situation in China and promises that he will continue his protest actions until the opening ceremony. However, taking part in actions in China is out of the question.

"I cannot travel to Beijing," he said. "Last August I was arrested there when we protested in front of the Olympic Committee."

Ménard was interrogated and expelled from the country. A couple of months ago he tried to enter China via Hong Kong but was unsuccessful.

"The authorities put a stamp in my passport that forever bans me from entering China," he said. "I am convinced though that the communist government will not indefinitely stay in power and that I will live to see myself travelling back to a democratic China."

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