‘The mob turned on us’: Foreign reporters in Xinjiang

Chinese authorities have, unusually, welcomed foreign reporters to Xinjiang since ethnic rioting broke out on Sunday in Urumqi between the Uighur minority and Han Chinese. A Beijing-based agency has even offered to facilitate travel, according to one writer who blogs from Shanghai. (CPJ hasn’t confirmed his story. Have any other reporters been approached in this way?) 

Some Uighur protesters also welcome the foreign press, according to Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po on July 7. “After drawing the attention of the [Chinese, Hong Kong, and international] reporters, these Uighur women split up in groups and cried to the reporters, especially the ones who are foreigners,” while ignoring the Chinese journalists, the report says, in a translation by the EastSouthWestNorth blog.

Yet open reporting hasn’t been encouraged across the board. Electronic communication is increasingly curtailed, and the pressures of getting reports out amid ongoing violence are apparent in journalists’ accounts from the region. “About 50 Han Chinese, many carrying metal rods, shouted and harassed a foreign reporter who walked by and would not let another journalist with a video camera film the scene,” The Associated Press reported today.

ABC News reporter Beth Lloyd has this vivid description today on the outlet’s blog:

“Then, the mob turned on us. They blocked our cameras, not wanting the images of Han Chinese beating a Uighur to get out. I was pushed. Then the group surrounded us and started yelling. They pushed us back up a highway ramp where we were shooting. They yelled that western journalists were biased against the Han Chinese and that we should delete our footage. One man tried to grab our camera and then pulled out a baton and held it over his head as if he were going to hit us. We turned around and ran.” 

Below is a transcript of public Twitter posts by Al-Jazeera English correspondent Melissa Chan while she was reporting this segment in Urumqi, from her arrival in Xinjiang on July 6 until the segment was posted on YouTube yesterday. CPJ cited Chan’s messages in our news alert on Tuesday, but we’re reproducing a longer extract because of the insight she offers into the situation for journalists on the ground, as well as the opportunities–and limitations–offered by the micro-blogging format itself.

We haven’t been able to reach Chan yet directly and have not confirmed all the content of her tweets, but she continued to post updates today. About four hours ago she posted: “No internet from phone and my laptop is down. Will be even harder to twitter now.” You can monitor what happens next on her Twitter page.


Off to Xinjiang. Will tweet what we find on the ground in a few hours.3:35 AM Jul 6th

Twitter appears to be blocked suddenly in China – possibly because of the Urumqi rioting? I’m using a proxy but updates will now be harder.3:39 AM Jul 6th

The Internet is down in #Urumqi. Everywhere.6:22 AM Jul 6th

The streets are completely empty; curfew in effect. Everything seems under control during our drive from airport to city center, Urumqi.12:36 PM Jul 6th

Everyone can follow me on Twitter: melissakchan12:45 PM Jul 6th

The Foreign Ministry is organizing a trip for journalists Tuesday. Those who go off on their own to newsgather, they say, go at own peril.12:47 PM Jul 6th

If you don’t go on the organized trip, you might not be able to get pass police/PLA roadblocks to see anything at all.12:51 PM Jul 6th

Those asking how I’m getting Internet: one room out of one hotel for all journalists. No other Internet access in entire city.12:51 PM Jul 6th

Tricky: Go on a government trip and get their version of the story, or go on your own and risk not getting access anywhere, getting nothing.1:06 PM Jul 6th 

The government appears very confident things are under control.1:10 PM Jul 6th

Just to clarify: journalists can go off on our own. But, for example, riot police have surrounded hospitals. If you want to check injured-1:50 PM Jul 6th

Government has set up press center here in Urumqi. But it’s hard to feel welcomed. No phone, no Internet. One reporter’s camera smashed.2:30 PM Jul 6th

And at least two media crews detained for hours.2:31 PM Jul 6th

About to visit a few hospitals; the streets have more people out now.8:44 PM Jul 6th

Uighur women with babies and children; hundreds protesting and asking for release of husbands.10:17 PM Jul 6th

Shot police are moving in the protesters are shouting, “Let them free.”10:19 PM Jul 6th

Chinese plainclothes with sticks now have shown up.10:25 PM Jul 6th

Some men have started throwing rocks.10:26 PM Jul 6th

The government have finally reacted and they are now trying to round us up back to our buses.10:40 PM Jul 6th

There are rottweilers with the police. I fear if we leave bad things will happen to these people. #urumqi 10:44 PM Jul 6th

For those wondering how I am twittering. Have been text messaging a Beijing friend who is posting my messages via proxy.11:36 PM Jul 6th

The last we saw it looked as if the protesters were dispersing but armed police had guns not by their side, but in hand.11:52 PM Jul 6th

From the other point of view the police did manage the situation well – it could have escalated far more.11:53 PM Jul 6th

Looking Han Chinese doesn’t make me feel safe I must say.1:12 AM Jul 7th

Locals tell up there are riots now in three or four locations in the city.1:42 AM Jul 7th

A few hundred Han Chinese with sticks and knives have come down the road singing the national anthem.2:31 AM Jul 7th

Heading to an ethnic neighborhood.2:31 AM Jul 7th

I asked a Han Chinese girl if she was scared. Yes. But this is to defend my country she says with stick in hand.2:54 AM Jul 7th

There is no right or wrong anymore. Just vigilantes, Han and Uighur. Mostly men but some women and even children.3:21 AM Jul 7th

A Han Chinese man with a stick just tore open our car door to beat our producer. Averted just in time.3:48 AM Jul 7th

The city is now under martial law.3:59 AM Jul 7th

It is dangerous to film around Han Chinese if you have blonde hair and white skin. They get angry.4:32 AM Jul 7th

Equally bad if you’re a journalist who is Han-looking in Uighur neighborhoods. We all feel kind of stuck.4:34 AM Jul 7th

Watch the report I just put out for al Jazeera on YouTube: http://bit.ly/baozH