Herewith a statement just issued by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China about the experiences of some of my colleagues reporting in Tibetan areas of China proper at this very sensitive time. The events are entirely predictable but no less dispiriting, particularly coming on the heels of a government crackdown on the ability of both Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan reporters to gather the news as well as the activities of the excellent group of native Chinese “assistants” who do so much to help foreign reporters do their jobs. Back to the future indeed.
MAR 9, 2009. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China urges the Chinese government to halt a wave of detentions of journalists and open Tibetan areas for news coverage.
Reporters from at least six news organisation have been detained, turned back or had their tapes confiscated in the past week as they tried to visit Tibetan areas of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai ahead of the one-year anniversary of the unrest in Tibet.
This contravenes regulations made permanent by the Foreign Ministry in Oct. 2008 that foreign reporters can travel freely without seeking prior permission everywhere outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield, two reporters for The New York Times, were detained by members of the People’s Armed Police and the Public Security Bureau in Gansu Province for a total of 20 hours, starting on Feb. 27. They were then forced to stay overnight in Lanzhou and board a plane for Beijing the next morning. When Wong tried to take a photograph of one of his captors, he was struck on the arm and his camera was broken.
A Japanese traveling companion and a local driver were also detained with the two reporters during the same period. The driver was subjected to interrogation and threats.
On Mar. 9, Beniamino Natale, a reporter with Italy’s ANSA news agency was detained with two colleagues for more than two hours in Guinan County, Qinghai after visiting a monastery.
The previous day, Isabel Hormaeche, a producer with Spanish broadcaster TVE and her team were detained by police in Ganzi, Sichuan province. Some of their reporting materials were confiscated and deleted. They were then escorted 200 kilometers out of the area.
Around the same time, Katri Makkonen of Finnish Broadcasting Company was repeatedly detained and followed on the road from Tongren to Xiningin, Qinghai. The police took her driver’s driving licence and forced him to write a statement about where they had been and what they had done. “It is despicable that now that they can’t make us leave, they instead start pressuring the Chinese who are with us,” Makkonen said.
Associated Press reported that its journalists were detained twice in Sichuan in recent days. The FCCC has also received reports of three other cases of reporters being turned away from Xiahe, Gansu in late January.
No explanation has been given of the legal basis of the police actions.
“These detentions must stop,” said Jonathan Watts, FCCC president. “The reporters are within their rights to visit Tibetan areas outside of the TAR. By locking up and blocking reporters, the security forces raise suspicions about their actions. The government should live up to its promise of openness in all of China, including TAR and other Tibetan areas.”