China must address press freedom in Tibet

New York, March 9, 2009–Chinese authorities in Tibet should open the region to foreign journalists and release imprisoned Tibetan journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Tuesday is the 50th anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule.

Foreigners, including journalists, were ordered out of Kangding City, a Tibetan region of Sichuan, today after two homemade explosives were thrown at police vehicles in Qinghai province, according to The Associated Press. The Internet and text messages were also blocked in in parts of Ganzi and Aba prefectures, according to AP. No one was injured in the attacks, which took place despite a heavy police presence throughout Tibetan areas, part of the government’s efforts to contain anti-government sentiment in advance of Tuesday’s sensitive anniversary.

Media access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas of western China has been severely restricted since nonviolent protests against Chinese rule–staged in Lhasa and other Tibetan cities to coincide with the anniversary last year–deteriorated into ethnic rioting on March 14, 2008. Information and opinion pertaining to Tibetan independence is vigilantly censored throughout China.

The whereabouts of two Tibetan journalists detained in 2008 remain unknown. Police detained Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen one year ago in the days leading up to the anniversary, according to his film company and family members. His family has not been informed of charges against him. Public security officials arrested Rangjung, a Seda TV journalist and writer, on September 11, 2008, according to the Indian-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy and Radio Free Asia. It is not known if he has been indicted.

“The information lockdown surrounding Tibet is unacceptable,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “We saw last year that suppressing reporting about what is happening in Tibet leads only to misunderstanding and the further polarization of international opinion about the Chinese presence in the region. The onus is on the Chinese government to open the region to foreign reporters. Dhondup Wangchen and Rangjung should be charged with an offense or immediately released. “

The restrictions on foreign reporters contravene regulations developed for the 2008 Olympics, and subsequently extended, which allow journalists to interview any willing subjects. Although the rules make no geographical stipulations, foreign journalists–who are not authorized to speak on record by their media outlets–told CPJ they must apply to local authorities for permission to enter Tibet, which is frequently denied. Supervised tours of Tibetan areas for selected members of the foreign press are occasionally organized by local officials, according to journalists working in China and international news reports. 

The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 after a Tibetan rebellion against Chinese rule was suppressed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been corrected to reflect that AP reported the Internet was blocked in parts of Ganzi and Aba prefectures. Kanding had Internet access.