May 8, 2008 / 6:15 AM / 11 years ago

China won't guarantee Web freedom over Olympics

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will not guarantee it won’t censor the Internet over this summer’s Beijing Olympics, nor can it guarantee to stamp out piracy of Olympic-branded goods, officials said on Thursday.

A replica Olympic torch is held by a member of the support crew at Everest Base Camp after their climbers reached the summit of the world's highest mountain Mount Everest (C), also known as Qomolangma, in the Tibet Autonomous Region May 8, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray

Wang Wei, executive vice president of the Beijing Olympic organisers, had promised media would have “complete freedom” to report over the event, but rights groups have regularly criticised China’s commitment to that pledge.

China maintains a tight grip over the Internet, whose use is exploding in the world’s most populous nation, preventing access to sites it considers anti-government, such as those of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong or Tibet independence groups.

“China has always been very cautious when it comes to the Internet,” Technology Minister Wan Gang told a news conference as the Olympic torch was being paraded atop Mount Everest.

“I’ve not got any clear information about which sites will be shut or screened. But to protect the youth there are controls on some unhealthy websites.

“We will guarantee as much as possible” that sites will not be blocked over the Olympics, he added. “Every country limits access to some websites. Even in developed countries not every site can be accessed.”

As part of China’s plan to hold a “high-tech Olympics”, broadband wireless Internet services will be widely available, according to a handbook issued at the same news conference, to ensure “convenience for journalists (and) promptness of news”.

Last week, the United States said again it was concerned about Internet controls in China.

“We would hope that people in China would be able to have access to all forms of information that are out there, including those that are available online. And that would apply to those who are full-time residents of China as well as those who might be visiting for the Olympics,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

In another area which has been a source of tension between China and the United States, the protection of intellectual property, Beijing said it was trying hard to ensure no pirated Olympic products were available.

Unlicensed t-shirts, caps and other accessories carrying the Beijing Olympics logo or the official Games’ mascots are sold openly on streets around China, along with a variety of other pirated goods, including DVDs of Hollywood movies.

Last year the city issued 1 million yuan ($142,900) in fines to those flouting copyright controls of Olympic symbols, but an official admitted the battle would never be fully won.

“The law enforcement authorities are not able to guarantee that infringement never happens. What we are trying our best to do is combat it and crack down when we find it,” said Liu Zhengang, head of the Beijing IPR Bureau.

(Additional reporting by Liu Zhen, and Paul Eckert in Washington)

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