CPJ urges China to allow access to Xinjiang after attack on police

Hong Kong, August 5, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Chinese government to allow unrestricted reporting of Monday’s attack on police in the city of Kashgar, in the western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Local and international media outlets relied largely on the official Xinhua News Agency’s reports, which said two men killed 16 police and injured several more when they ran their truck off the road and lobbed explosives at a group of police officers. The report said the two men were arrested and identified as ethnic Uighur, a minority group that disputes Chinese governance of the region.

There are significant differences in the Xinhua reports themselves, based on the language in which they were produced, according to CPJ’s analysis. Xinhua’s English reports say the attack was a suspected act of terrorism by Uighur separatists. In the agency’s Chinese-language reports, the terrorist angle was downplayed and the attack was described as simply a criminal act.

International journalists who spoke with CPJ today said they had reporters on their way to the region near China’s border with central Asia, but they were concerned about the possible reception by local authorities.

Journalists who encounter press freedom issues in China this month may call CPJ’s hotline at +852 6717 0591.

“China eased restrictions on reporters from overseas in January 2007 as part of its pledge to improve media conditions before the Olympics—and with just four days until the Games begin, those freedoms should be honored,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, who is monitoring the situation from Hong Kong. “Reporters in China and overseas should be allowed to independently verify state media reports.”

International news agencies said that a security lockdown was in place after the explosion. Agence France-Presse quoted a German visitor saying police came to his hotel room to check his camera for photographs of the incident. Local officials did not provide details of the bombing, according to wire reporters.

When Tibetan protests against Chinese rule led to violent clashes with Chinese residents and security forces in another of China’s disputed autonomous regions in March, foreign reporters were barred from covering the incidents. Local authorities appeared to disregard the January 2007 regulations allowing foreign journalists to conduct interviews anywhere in China with only the consent of the interviewee.

The regulations expire in October 2008, after the end of the Games in Beijing, though the government has said it might make them permanent after the deadline expires.