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  • Statements | 20 July, 2009 (11:15)

    Open Letter On Reporting Conditions In Xinjiang

    Information Department,
    Ministry of Foreign Affairs

    Dear Sir:

    In light of past problems covering large incidents like the unrest in Tibet last year, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China would like to share some of the feedback we received from our members, given the large number of journalists who traveled to Xinjiang to cover the unrest.

    Our club welcomes the relatively open access for correspondents in Urumqi and we hope this is a sign of things to come for press working conditions in China. Many correspondents who traveled to Urumqi to cover the riots and their aftermath reported to us that police and foreign affairs officials were generally helpful. They responded promptly, assisting journalists by providing special Internet and telephone lines, arranging press conferences and by keeping the reporting environment reasonably open. These are important steps toward what the FCCC asked for last year after the problems reporting in Tibet.

    Still, several serious concerns remain that we hope the Chinese government will address.

    In Kashgar, several correspondents were ejected from the city and prevented from doing their jobs. In Shaoguan, reporters met with obstacles while trying to report on the toy factory murders related to the Urumqi protests. The relative openness of Urumqi should be applied to all areas, in keeping with the government’s open reporting regulations.

    In addition, we are extremely concerned about the hostility directed at foreign correspondents as a result of inflammatory comments in mainstream Chinese media regarding coverage of Xinjiang. At least two of our members have received deaths threats, many others have had disturbing telephone calls or been targeted by email viruses. We are also concerned about warnings to journalists in Xinjiang to avoid breaking the rules by asking sensitive questions. One correspondent in Urumqi was detained on that charge, which goes against standard international reporting conditions.

    The media arrangements in Urumqi represented a genuine step forward. The recent progress toward an open reporting climate should not be undermined by statements that stir up hostility toward foreign journalists.

    For more details, please see the incidents below. I am more than happy to meet and discuss these matters in person. This is not an exhaustive list, but gives some examples of the obstacles our members faced:

    • July 7, Urumqi: A newspaper journalist who reported a positive reporting experience overall was shoved into a van by police and ordered back to the media center at a local hotel.
    • July 10, Kashgar: An Associated Press photographer had photos deleted by authorities and was ordered to leave the city.
    • July 10, Kashgar: A German television crew was stopped by police and ordered to return to Urumqi.
    • July 10-11, Shaoguan, Guangdong: Officials blocked all interview attempts with Uighur workers at the toy factory connected with the violence. One writer-photographer team was followed by car and on foot, and their driver ordered to surrender his car keys to police.
    • July 12, Kashgar: City officials told an AFP reporter and photographer the city government had ordered a stop to all foreign and domestic reporting activities in the interest of safety. The photographer was asked to delete photographs, and complied. Both were escorted back to their hotel, where they were prevented from leaving by about six uniformed police and another six plainclothes camped out in the lobby. The two were allowed to briefly eat at a nearby restaurant where they were watched while they ate. “We couldn’t talk to anyone without them watching, since it would get people in hot water. Just by them watching, it’s a very effective curb on reporting,” the reporter said.

    Yours sincerely,

    Scott McDonald
    Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China