Recently there have been a series of sometimes dangerous and, at best, troublesome incidents involving correspondents reporting in China. We urge all members to be mindful of safety – especially with their local staff.
Here are some details of those incidents. If you need more information then please contact the FCCC Board.
1. Chen Guangcheng
In recent weeks, journalists visiting the village of self-taught legal advocate and civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng have been threatened and manhandled by plainclothes thugs. Anyone considering going there should be aware of safety concerns.
Reporters who have travelled to Linyi advise that attempting to enter this village on foot is not wise because you may need to leave in a hurry. They also advise that special consideration should be given not only to the safety of local staff but any Chinese citizen who may accompany you.
It is clearly unacceptable and a violation of government reporting regulations that correspondents cannot travel to this town to do their job without being threatened or assaulted.
On a slightly brighter note, one reporter who’d travelled there believed that these plainclothes bullies appear to be under orders not to genuinely hurt correspondents, but merely to scare them. However, this remains a tense and potentially dangerous place to travel to.
For more on conditions around Chen Guangcheng’s village here are some articles:
2. Tibetan Self Immolations
Reporters attempting to cover the self immolation protests in Sichuan’s northwest have been stopped. One American journalist was held for two hours at a police checkpoint for questioning and later told that it was against the law to report from the area. He was also told he could not leave unless he deleted his pictures. His driver was threatened with arrest. Police later visited the same journalist at his hotel in Songpan.
Another reporter was stopped in Aba township within 30 minutes of his arrival and asked by police to leave. Police went through his camera to delete pictures. The FCCC’s understanding is that the authorities are doing all they can to make it impossible for foreigners to enter Aba township.
Parts of the region are also under the supervision of the People’s Armed Police. Police checkpoints are manned throughout the day. Sky News told the FCCC that it appears police stations have been installed in monasteries in that area. The Sky News team added that in one encounter, the officers threatened their local driver and ordered him to take the crew straight back to the airport.
Farther west in Kardze, Sichuan, a TIME magazine team cautioned that some main towns were under heavy security and that monasteries appeared to be staffed with plainclothes police officers. There were also newly installed security cameras all over the place.
3. Shouwang Church
An assistant for German RTL television was manhandled roughly by police and the correspondent has been threatened with potential future “punishment” after they attempted to cover underground church meetings in Haidian.
Police are said to have become aggressive when they tried to film using a mobile phone in Zhongguancun shopping district where the Shouwang Christian group regularly tries to meet.
RTL’s news assistant was led away by police with his arms held behind his back. RTL reports that he was bruised and had his glasses knocked off.
The reporter was detained at the original location and, though she did not know it at the time, her news assistant was taken to the local police station to be interviewed. After 40 minutes the correspondent was told she could leave but said she wouldn’t be going without her news assistant. Police initially said they did not know where her assistant was.
The assistant was released after an hour.
That night police visited the correspondent’s home but she was not there.
The correspondent and news assistant were summoned to the PSB the next day and returned accompanied by an officer from the German Embassy.
The Embassy representative was not allowed in while the two were interviewed separately again but the police were much friendlier than the day before. The correspondent felt that there was a marked improvement in attitude from the authorities after their embassy became involved.
The correspondent was told that she needs to apply in advance for permission to film in public places like Wangfujing and Haidian.
They were castigated for being too slow to present their identification.
The news assistant was made to write a self-criticism. A woman from the DSB was present and said the news assistant would be interviewed again at some time by the DSB.
The correspondent was warned that she would be subject to “punishment” if she attempted to report in a similar way in the future.
RTL’s editor-in-chief sent a letter of complaint to the Chinese Embassy in Germany. The correspondent was then summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told that this letter of complaint was inaccurate; that she and her news assistant had been uncooperative during this incident and that they had failed to obtain prior approval for reporting in the Zhongguancun area.
RTL’s editor-in-chief was also invited by the Chinese Embassy in Germany to go in for a talk.
4. Beijing – Temporary seizure of credentials
A Sky News team had their press cards temporarily taken away after they refused requests by local police and later the Exit Entry (visa) police to leave the site of a protest on the outskirts of Beijing. The demonstration was in front of a local PSB station.
According to Sky, an officer from the Exit Entry police took the cards and left so as to make the reporters follow him away from the protest.
The correspondent says it was made clear to them that – if they wanted their press cards back – they would need to stop filming and leave with the Exit Entry authorities. Then they were accompanied by police to the Xiaojieqiao office (where visas are normally handed out).
At the Xiaojieqiao station the reporter and cameraman were separated and questioned. The police said that, by being at the site of the protest, the journalists were responsible for “creating a public disturbance”.
These interviews were filmed. After 2 hours of questioning they had their press cards returned.