During the Eid holiday that began Nov. 27, two journalists traveling separately to Kashgar, Xinjiang, were harassed by police and foreign affairs officials — one of whom demanded they leave the city, despite reassurances from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing the city remains open. In both cases, local residents were under apparent pressure to watch for and monitor foreign journalists.
Italian journalist Beniamino Natale, traveling with a photographer friend, attempted to check in at the Seaman Hotel but was refused and sent to Qini Bagh, told it was the only hotel allowed to host foreign reporters. Natale recalls: “The morning after my arrival a policeman was waiting for me in the lobby. He asked me if I was on holiday. I said yes.”
“He said Kashgar has a particular situation and there are particular rules. I told him that I am a guest of China holding a J visa and that I respect the law of China. The day after, as we were walking in the old city, he came shouting after me with another guy. I told him he was abusing his power and that I am a guest of China, and went on walking and shooting photos with my friend.”
An officer from the local foreign affairs office showed up, was very polite and told the journalist the same thing. Later, Natale hired a local guide and noticed on the way back to the hotel, the guide followed him. The guide admitted that he was instructed by police to follow Natale and report back. Earlier in the week, Natale was blocked from entering the Id Kah Mosque to watch prayers for the Kurban Festival, when the mosque and square are packed with people. Natale was barred, while his photographer friend with a tourist visa was allowed in.
“In my view the important thing is that you get more freedom of movement with a tourist visa than with a J visa, a situation similar to that of other authoritarian countries like North Korea and Burma,” said Natale.
In a similar case the same week, an American journalist traveling with a British photographer managed to escape police notice several days in Kashgar by not using her passport, which contains a journalist visa, at the hotel. On the final day she was forced by a cancelled flight to stay an extra day and check into the International Hotel on her passport. Within 20 minutes of check-in, five men (two uniformed police, two without uniform and one from the local foreign affairs office) showed up at her hotel room demanding to know why she was in Kashgar and when she was leaving.
The officials left her room after the journalist repeatedly told them it was improper for five strange men to beat on a single woman’s door at 10pm, with no complaint that she had done anything wrong. The men went to the lobby, where they used a copy of her passport in the automated airline check-in system to check her in for the next day’s flight to Kashgar. The hotel night manager later admitted he had to call the police when he saw the journalist visa on her passport.
“They gave no reason for the disturbance, and seemed to back off when I told them I was calling the Foreign Ministry,” she said. “Yet it was clear this was standard practice when a journalist checks into a Kashgar hotel.”