New York, July 7, 2009--Authorities in northwestern Xinjiang should stop the harassment
of journalists reporting on ethnic rioting and restore Internet access in the
regional capital, Urumqi, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
At least one journalist was detained for two hours in Urumqi today for reporting
independently of a government-organized media tour of the damaged city, according
to National Public Radio. "I went independently of the group, and so police
dragged me down to the police station and questioned me for a couple of hours,"
Anthony Kuhn said in his report.
The Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents Club of China said
Tuesday it had received reports that security forces in Xinjiang had "detained
TV crews and other reporters," confiscated or damaged equipment, and interfered
with interviews in the past two days.
An official in Urumqi confirmed Tuesday that Internet
connections had been cut in parts of the city in response to outbreaks of
violence involving the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority, police, and Han
Chinese residents, according to the official news agency Xinhua.
The official did not say when access would be restored.
Journalists remain at risk from armed vigilantes who continue
to roam the streets amid a high security presence, according to international
"Authorities in Xinjiang should allow journalists to do
their jobs in covering the unfolding events," said Bob
Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. "People in China and
throughout the world are relying on the Internet to stay informed about this
important story. Cutting off Internet access only fuels rumors and
Foreign journalists were not barred from the autonomous
region as they were during ethnic riots in Tibet in March
2008, but Internet restrictions and interference in phone service hindered
reporting. "A Han Chinese man with a stick just tore open our car door to beat
our producer. Averted just in time," Al-Jazeera correspondent Melissa Chan said on Twitter. She
said Internet access for foreign reporters was confined to one room in her
hotel; she was sending Twitter updates by text message to a friend in Beijing who posted them
on the site.
"Crowd now turning on Telegraph
reporter and assistant. Anti-foreigner attack," UK
Daily Telegraph correspondent Malcolm Moore told Twitter followers
from Shanghai, based
on phone contact with his colleague on the ground. "Phew. Peter Foster, Telegraph man in Urumqi, and his assistant are fine. Cops
protected them," he updated shortly afterward.
Other Internet users reported that access to Twitter and
other social networking sites, including Facebook, had been restricted in parts
since Sunday. Journalists speculated that censors were trying to stem the tide
of unconfirmed accounts and images of the clashes, which spread online over 12
hours before they appeared in state news broadcasts, according to international
news reports. Those images are now ubiquitous in Chinese news coverage, which depicts
the rioting as being orchestrated by ethnic separatists. Discussion forums and
commenting features on several news sites have been disabled.
Exile Uighur groups say local residents initiated
peaceful protests against Chinese rule in the historically tense region on
Sunday. It remained unclear on Tuesday why the protests escalated into rioting,
which the government says killed at least 150 people, according to
international news reports. Journalists have not independently confirmed the
death toll; neither the ethnic breakdown of the victims nor evidence of who was
responsible for the deadly violence has been established, according to news