Last week, the Chinese government instituted a crackdown on foreign journalists and imposed new regulations. Such measures are a change in the country’s policies after a period of relative openness initiated during the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics. The New York Times sees the new measures as a ‘marked shift for the Chinese authorities and a sign of the government’s resolve to head off any antigovernment revolts like those that have swept the Middle East and North Africa during the past two months.’ Also on Monday, in a another sign that the Chinese government is clamping down on protests of any sort, the government closed Tibet to tourists.
The New York Times details a number of instances in which foreign journalists have not only been detained, but beaten and physically assaulted:
On Sunday, about a dozen European and Japanese journalists in Shanghai were herded into an underground bunkerlike room and kept for two hours after they sought to monitor the response to calls on an anonymous Internet site for Chinese citizens to conduct a “strolling” protest against the government outside the Peace Cinema, near People’s Square in Shanghai.
In Beijing, several plainclothes officers planted themselves on Saturday night outside the home of an American correspondent who was severely beaten by security officers the previous week as he sought to cover a similar Internet-inspired protest there. Seven officers in two separate cars then trailed the reporter to a basketball game on Sunday, recording his trip on video the entire time, correspondents said.
At least a dozen other journalists and photographers were visited in their homes over the weekend and repeatedly warned not to cause trouble — or, as one officer put it, try to “topple the party.”
On Monday, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi ;categorically denied’ that any journalists had been assaulted or otherwise attacked by Chinese security officers:
“There is no such issue as Chinese police officers beating foreign journalists,” he said during a news conference at the National People’s Congress, China’s quasi-legislature. “China is a country under the rule of law, and we abide by the law. We have always followed relevant laws and regulations in managing the affairs related to foreign journalists.”
Four foreign journalists report that their Gmail accounts appear to have been hacked, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China. Over the weekend, more than a dozen foreign journalists were visited by the police at their homes; they included reporters and photographers for The New York Times, The Associated Press, CNN, NBC and Bloomberg News:
One person said he received a knock on his door as early as 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. Another was not home when a police officer called, but a child who answered the phone was reportedly interrogated.
On Monday, China closed Tibet to foreigners, the Guardian reports. March 14th will be the third anniversary of anti-government riots that occurred in 2008:
Zhang Qingli, the Communist party secretary in Tibet, said there were “some control measures” for safety reasons, citing potential overcrowding and freezing winter weather.
He told reporters at an annual political meeting in Beijing that the region was stable. “It’s not that the anti-Chinese forces and the Dalai clique haven’t thought of it but the fact is they haven’t been able to stir up any unrest since the March 14 incident.”
Travel agents have reported orders not to arrange trips for tourists, who will now need a special permit to visit the region in addition to the visa for China.
In 2008, 22 people—almost all Han Chinese—died when Tibetans protested in the streets of the capital, Lhasa; shops (owned by ethnic Chinese) were set on fire and people were attacked while the unrest spread to other parts of western China. Tibetan exiles ‘allege that scores of Tibetans died in the ensuing crackdown,’ but these claims have not been verified.
The Chinese government blamed the Dalai Lama for the uprising in Tibet. He was accused of wanting to create a separate state; the Dalai Lama says that ‘he wants only meaningful autonomy’—not that the Chinese government would even allow that.
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Photo by Boris van Hoytema.