Beijing yields in part to pressure over internet use
Peter Simpson in Beijing
Some sensitive sites still blocked
The mainland government has yielded to mounting international pressure for it to loosen censorship of the internet and lifted restrictions on several banned websites - but the promise of unfettered access has still not been fulfilled.
Journalists in the Olympic Village and the public logging onto the internet elsewhere on the mainland were able to access some of the sites previously blocked, such as Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, the BBC Chinese language service and Hong Kong newspapers Apple Daily and Sing Tao.
The limited relaxation of 'the Great Firewall of China' led International Olympic Committee vice-president Gunilla Lindberg to declare that 'the issue has been solved'.
'The IOC Co-ordination Commission and Bocog [the Beijing organising committee] met last night and agreed [to not censor]. Internet use will be just like in any Olympics,' she said.
Her comments came as President Hu Jintao urged foreign journalists to obey mainland law and write objective reports - something foreign media argue they can do only with absolute freedom to surf the internet.
But attempts to log onto a host of other sites - including those about or by Chinese dissidents, the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, the Tibetan government-in-exile, the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and Taiwan - failed repeatedly.
The website of another Hong Kong newspaper, the Oriental Daily News, which had previously been available to mainland readers, was blocked.
In general, internet service nationwide was slow to load or access was denied.
A spokesman for the Oriental Daily News said the paper was 'aware of the situation' but refused to comment further.
IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies told the South China Morning Post: 'The IOC has always pushed and encouraged Bocog to allow open access for the media to do their job. We are very pleased to see Bocog is helping to quickly solve these issues.
'If you are still having issues, you should refer back to the hosts.'
Bocog spokesman Sun Weide confirmed senior officials had met IOC officials to discuss the opening up of the banned websites, but would not say whether the firewall, which is policed by 40,000 censors, would be opened further.
'Lifting of blocks on sites was a work in progress,' said IOC press commission chairman Kevan Gosper, the official at the centre of the storm. International reporters arriving to cover the competition said they were angry with the IOC and dismayed at what many are describing as another public relations blunder by Beijing.
'I'm surprised that some websites remain off limits after a repeated promise of uncensored internet access,' said Philippe Vande Weyer, a veteran sportswriter from the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, who is covering his fifth Olympics.
'It's pretty sad.'
Leonardo Stamillo of the Brazilian radio station CBN said: 'As a journalist, I don't feel comfortable with the censorship. I think it shows the world how the Chinese government thinks about media freedom.'
Roseann Rife, deputy director of Amnesty's Asia-Pacific programme, said the organisation welcomed news of the easing of censorship.
'However, arbitrary blocking and unblocking of certain sites does not fulfil the duty to comply with international standards of freedom of information and expression,' she said.
Additional reporting by Martin Zhou
Uygur Human Rights Project
Chat room Wenxue City
Reporters Without Borders
Liberty Times (Taiwan)
Radio Free Asia