Foreign media clampdown spreads in China

New York, March 19, 2008—The Chinese government has expanded its obstruction of foreign media covering the violence in Tibet into the neighboring provinces of Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan, as well as the capital, Beijing, according to international news reports that quoted a foreign correspondents group.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) told reporters they knew of 30 incidents of police hindering journalists who were trying to document the unrest. Police have reportedly detained journalists temporarily and followed them. Several international news outlets, including Agence France-Presse and CNN, published stories about Chinese police preventing their reporters from traveling into sensitive regions.

“Events in Tibet are providing international journalists with a taste of the kind of restrictions they may encounter while covering the Olympics in August,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge Beijing to reopen the areas of unrest to reporters as a step toward allowing the freedom they promised the media when the country was awarded the Games.”

Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (YLE) journalist Katri Makkonen was detained for 90 minutes in the northwestern province of Gansu on Monday, according to YLE journalist Yrjo Kokkonen, who spoke with CPJ by telephone from Finland today. The FCCC told reporters that police ignored Makkonen’s allusions to January 2007 regulations China introduced to improve conditions for foreign media before the Olympics. Kokkonen could not confirm this detail, but expressed concern at the fact that Makkonen had been briefly detained on several occasions. “It is not safe,” he said of the situation for reporters in China. CPJ could not reach the FCCC because of the late hour in China.

Foreign journalists were expelled from Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, last week. All foreign travel to the Himalayan region was cut off after peaceful pro-independence demonstration marking the March 10 anniversary of a failed uprising escalated into clashes with security forces and Han Chinese.

State media has not reported the spread of violence into western China. Access to overseas reports and online discussion is censored by the government, leaving many in China uninformed about the extent of the turmoil, international news reports said. Beijing denies claims by overseas Tibetan groups that at least 80 people have been killed.

The government is considering an organized tour to allow foreign journalists a controlled return to Lhasa, Premier Wen Jiabao said in a press conference on Tuesday.