Police officers roughed up foreign journalists trying to cover a protest yesterday on Beijing’s Wangfujing Street, including a Bloomberg News reporter who was badly beaten by plainclothes security men and had to be hospitalized with a head injury. Cameras were seized in order to delete photos and video. A dozen journalists were held for several hours in a police station. Media and websites including TV5, CNN and Linkedin were censored.
Inspired by the “Jasmine Revolution” pro-democracy demonstrations in Tunisia and elsewhere, the Beijing demonstration had been announced in advance on the Internet but hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police officers, accompanied by police dogs, were deployed in major show of force to prevent it from taking place.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the thuggish attitude of the police officers who used force and violence against the journalists. The incidents clearly reflect the government’s concern to prevent the circulation of any photos or videos of protests so that others are not inspired to follow suit.
“The Communist Party needs to understand that free expression is not a crime, even if the National People’s Congress is due to meet in a few days,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It needs to understand that criticism and debate are not synonymous with chaos and political instability. It also needs to respect everyone’s right to information.”
The press freedom organization added: “Censorship is often defended on the grounds of the need to maintain political stability. But, in practice, it too often serves as a pretext for protecting private interests, for covering up corruption and nepotism, and for maintaining political immobility.”
Journalists who went to the site announced for the demonstration were checked by the police and were forbidden to film or conduct interviews, on the basis of an old regulation under which a person’s written agreement must be obtained prior to the interview. In a veiled form of censorship, the authorities had also told journalists several days ahead of time that they would need a permit to cover the demonstration.
When invitations to tea turn into arrests
The authorities have meanwhile been adopting harsh measures with human rights activists and ordinary Internet users who have relayed the calls for demonstrations every Sunday in 13 Chinese cities. They are being accused of “jeopardizing state security” and “subverting state authority.”
On 22 February, officials in Shantou, in Guangdong province, ordered 10 days of administrative detention for Yuan Feng, a young migrant worker from Henan province, on a charge of “using a false identify to surf the Internet” after he allegedly posted information about the Jasmine Revolution on the Chinese social network QQ.
Ran Yunfei (冉云飞), a 46-year-old blogger and writer for the Sichuan Literature magazine, has been held by the Chengdu police since 20 February, when they invited him to come and drink some tea. The police also searched his home and confiscated his computer.
Hua Chunhui (华春晖), a 47-year-old netizen, was arrested on 21 February in Wuxi, in Jiangsu province. His fiancée, Wang Yi, has been held in a reeducation camp since last November for posting an ironic comment on Twitter about the previous month’s violent anti-Japanese demonstrations.
Liang Haiyi (梁海怡), a netizen who uses the pen-name of Miaoxiao (渺小), received an invitation to drink some tea with the police in Harbin, the Heilongjiang province, after she posted information about the Jasmine Revolution on foreign websites. She is now being held in a Harbin detention centre.
Chen Wei (陈卫), a 42-year-old resident of Suining, in Sichuan province, went missing after being invited to have tea with the local police on the morning of 20 February. He was formally arrested the next day and transferred to a detention centre. The police also searched his home, seizing his computer, hard disks and USB flash drives.