CPJ calls on China to stop inhibiting international press

New York, March 7, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists rejects statements by a Chinese government official that international reporters are not being detained, attacked, and harassed in China. CPJ calls on the police to end their anti-media attempts to stop foreign journalists from reporting on possible anti-government demonstrations in what has become known as the “Jasmine Revolution.” Instead, they should act in accordance with Chinese government regulations which protect their right to work freely in China, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister, denied police had attacked an international journalist in a press briefing today, according to international news reports. “We will continue to provide convenience for foreign journalists in conducting reporting activities here. At the same time, we hope the foreign journalists will abide by the Chinese laws and regulations. There is no such issue as Chinese police officers beating foreign journalists,” Yang was widely quoted as saying.

Yang’s statement came despite a heightened level of abuse directed at international journalists over the weekend.

Police briefly detained at least 17 foreign reporters in the People’s Square in Shanghai because they had not obtained permission to work there, according to The Associated Press. They were held for about two hours, according to the New York Times. Police visited at least a dozen journalists at their homes or offices over the weekend, warning them not to “topple the party,” the Times reported.

“The Chinese government is in a frightening state of denial when it claims that its police are not detaining, attacking, and threatening foreign journalists. Such activities are an affront to press freedom which the government should acknowledge and correct, instead of denying,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Journalists reporting on anti-government activity are doing their jobs, not instigating revolution.”

The People’s Square and the area surrounding Wangfujing, a central shopping street in Beijing, appear to have been hastily ordered off-limits for the foreign press since overseas websites posted nameless invitations to Chinese people to assemble there for nonviolent Sunday-afternoon “strolls” inspired by revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, on February 19. Participating signifies support for the organizers’ calls for an independent judiciary and a halt to government corruption, though visible attendance at the low key events has been low. International journalists were told last week their accreditation was at stake if they reported in the forbidden zones without permission, in contravention of 2007 regulations which stated permission for interviews was needed only from the interviewee.

The Times also reported that on Saturday, men in plainclothes surrounded the house of an identified Beijing-based American correspondent beaten for reporting from Wangfujing on February 27, and tailed him on Sunday. A Bloomberg News journalist received hospital treatment for injuries sustained that day, according to CPJ research.

The regulations protecting international reporters’ rights to work freely, introduced prior to the 2008 Olympics, have been breached before, but not for prolonged periods and not in city centers. It is not clear when access to the areas was restricted or how to obtain permission to work there, international news reports said. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China reported after the initial warnings that correspondents in Beijing had been unable to obtain a telephone number for the relevant Public Security Bureau. A clause forbidding unauthorized interviews appears to have been recently added to regulations governing behavior in Wangfujing, according to Beijing-based media blog Danwei.  

In an article on The Atlantic website, Lauren Hilgers, an American journalist in Shanghai, writes: “When I visited the government office said to be giving out permits for reporting at People’s Square, a very nice woman assured me that she had no idea what I was talking about.” Police also told one foreign journalist he was too tall and would obstruct traffic in the square, according to Hilgers. 

Journalists have also met with intimidation online. The Times and other international media reported that four journalists reported their Gmail accounts had apparently been hacked, sourcing the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China. The group’s website said: “To ensure the continued operation of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, we are currently not posting incident reports or statements on our website. We are, however, still collecting this information on behalf of our members. If you have an incident to report or want further information about these matters, please contact us directly.”

Newly launched Twitter accounts have been used to denigrate foreign reporting and threaten individuals, according to CPJ research. Chinese bloggers have been arrested on suspicion of anti-state activity for discussing the calls to protest online. Overseas dissident-run news website Boxun said it had sustained “the most serious DDoS attack” it had ever undergone on February 19, after posting information about the calls to demonstrate. A DDoS or distributed denial of service attack cripples a website’s host server with external communications requests to force the website offline.

State media reports emphasized stability and said “”people with ulterior motives” were trying to destabalize China, according to Danwei and the Hong Kong-based China Media Project