CPJ: Chinese police should halt obstruction of photographers

Hong Kong, August 22, 2008—Chinese police should halt ongoing harassment of photographers seeking to document pro-Tibet protests in Beijing, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today in the wake of reports that two video bloggers have been detained and two Associated Press journalists obstructed.

Video bloggers Brian Conley and Jeff Rae were detained early Tuesday in Beijing, according to a statement by Students for a Free Tibet. Later that day, Conley’s wife Eowyn Rieke in Philadelphia received a text message from her husband, saying, “In jail, all fine,” Rieke told CPJ. She has not had further contact since that message.

The two were in Beijing to document pro-Tibet protests, although the circumstances of their arrests were not clear. Rieke told CPJ she understood that at the time of the arrests, they were socializing with people who had been planning a protest action.

At a separate pro-Tibet protest in Beijing on Thursday, plainclothes security officers roughed up and questioned two Associated Press photographers, confiscating memory cards from their cameras, AP reported.

“The heavy-handed treatment by police of anyone holding a camera to gather news during the Olympics is of great concern,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities in China must accept that the world wants to see documentation of incidents they would rather play down. Detentions and harassment are not the answer.”

Footage and images of Beijing, including protest events, shot by Conley and Rae have been published on pro-Tibetan Web sites and circulated to media organizations during the Olympics, according to Han Shan, the Olympics Campaign Coordinator for Students for a Free Tibet. Conley is also publisher of the Web site Aliveinbaghdad, which posts weekly video reports by Iraqi journalists.

Conley and Rae were detained along with four other people, according to Students for a Free Tibet. The legal status of the six people was unclear today. Bejing police issued a statement saying, “Thomas and five other foreigners” were given a 10-day administrative detention on August 19 for disturbing public order, according to Agence France-Presse and The Associated Press. Police did not elaborate on the identities of the foreigners, AFP and AP said. One of the detainees is named Tom Grant, Students for a Free Tibet said. CPJ could not independently confirm a connection between the reported statement and the group.

CPJ also spoke by telephone today with video blogger Noel Hidalgo in New York, who said police in Beijing arrested and deported him after trying to smash his camera as he was documenting a pro-Tibet protest there on August 10. Footage he shot of an earlier protest is available on the CPJ Blog.