News / Asia

    Reporter's Notebook: China Turns Up Heat on Journalists in Tiananmen Square

    Armed Chinese police stand guard on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, June 3, 2014.
    Armed Chinese police stand guard on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, June 3, 2014.
    Working as a journalist under China’s strict media laws can be incredibly frustrating, especially during what authorities call "sensitive periods." But during this year's anniversary of the government's bloody crackdown on student protesters in Tiananmen Square, it has felt as if we were not just in a "sensitive period" but one that is "hypersensitive."

    Each year, authorities warn activists and families of those killed in the crackdown against speaking with the media. Some are even kept under virtual house arrest.

    This year, rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and several others were detained just for holding a private discussion about what happened a quarter of a century ago. Pu has been charged with picking quarrels, like many others who dare to discuss the topic.

    Amnesty International says scores have been placed under house arrest, detained or questioned by police in recent weeks.

    Threats, harrassment
     
    Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
    x
    Click to enlarge
    Click to enlarge
    Authorities have also turned up the heat on journalists, warning some of serious consequences in a bid to persuade them to not report on Tiananmen.

    Many news agencies in Beijing have been warned not to go to Tiananmen Square to do reporting and some journalists have even been harassed on streets far away from the square while trying to have basic conversations about Tiananmen and June 4, 1989.
     
    Authorities say the incident is too sensitive and have tried to block news coverage by harassing journalists and those they would seek to interview.

    In their meetings with journalists, authorities have reminded reporters that their local news assistants - who, in many cases, blend in with crowds here much better than some foreign correspondents - cannot do reporting work on their own. And although Chinese law says that reporters can interview anyone who accepts a request, authorities are now saying certain places such as Tiananmen Square require special permission as well.
     
    Micromanagement

    I have been working in China for a little less than two years and have had some encounters with authorities. But the micromanagement around the Tiananmen anniversary in recent weeks makes it hard not to wonder why - despite all of China's other major advances - the government still responds with a knee-jerk reaction in silencing dissenting views. Why are its leaders apparently so fearful of their own citizens?

    There are definitely growing threats that Chinese authorities face.

    Since October of last year, security has been steadily increasing in Beijing following what authorities called a terrorist attack on Tiananmen Square. At the intersection near where I live and work, it has become all too common to see nighttime roadside checks of license plates for vehicles heading in the direction of Tiananmen Square.

    That intensity has grown following the brutal and tragic knife attack at Kunming railway station, where black-clad attackers killed 29 and wounded more than 140 people in March, and two other deadly attacks in Xinjiang. The government has blamed those attacks on separatist militants.
     
    • A man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing's Cangan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989.
    • The bodies of dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.
    • A blood-covered protester holds a Chinese soldier's helmet following violent clashes with military forces during pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.
    • Pro-democracy demonstrators pitch tents in Beijing's Tiananmen Square before their protests were crushed by the People's Liberation Army on June 3, 1989.
    • A man tries to pull a Chinese soldier away from his comrades as thousands of Beijing citizens turned out to block thousands of troops on their way towards Tiananmen Square, June 3, 1989.
    • A military helicopter drops leaflets above Tiananmen Square, May 22, 1989.
    • Beijing University students wave fists and flags as Chinese military helicopters fly over Tiananmen Square, May 21, 1989.
    • Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang speaks with fasting university students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, May 19, 1989.
    • Hundreds of thousands of people fill Tiananmen Square in Beijing, May 17, 1989.
    • Beijing University students relax in Tiananmen Square as their hunger strike for democracy begins a fourth day, May 16, 1989.
    • Students shout after breaking through a police blockade during a pro-democracy march to Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 4 1989.
    • Student demonstrators scuffle with police as they try to break the guard line to march to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, April 27, 1989.
    • Chinese students link arms in solidarity at dawn in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, April 22, 1989.
    • A student leader tries in vain to settle down a crowd of Beijing University students who converged on the Chinese Communist Party headquarters after demonstrating at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, April 19, 1989.

    Reflections

    On the afternoon of June 3, at about the same time that tensions were starting to build 25 years ago between the students and troops brought into Beijing to clear the square, I took a ride on my bike down Changan Avenue, the wide Beijing throughway that goes straight to Tiananmen Square.
     
    At every intersection, and along the way in between there were police in every direction. Security was particularly tight around nearby entrances to the city's expansive subway. The entrance to the Forbidden City teemed with tourists, and lines backed up at each end where intensive security checks were carried out.

    Some people mingled about in Tiananmen Square, but there were more police and concession sales owners than visitors. As I drove back to the office, I stopped at an intersection and glanced up at the Beijing Hotel where the iconic photo of Tank Man was shot.

    Sitting there with the cars and bikes racing by and the sun scorching down, it was hard to imagine what that moment must have been like, with the rumble of tanks and one man standing in their way.
     
    Several blocks away at a daily press briefing, spokesman Hong Lei once again laid out the government's position on Tiananmen, stating that the Chinese government reached a conclusion about the political turmoil long ago. He also had this to say about dissidents in China.
     
    "In China, there are only law breakers -- there are no so-called dissidents."
     

    You May Like

    Ethiopia's Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?

    Yonatan Tesfaye was detained in December 2015 on charges under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; eleven statements from his Facebook page were used as evidence

    Egypt Orders Trial for Journalists Charged With Harboring Reporters

    Order targets journalists' union chief Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim for allegedly spreading false news, harboring fugitive colleagues

    Nigerian Oil Production Falls as Militant Attacks Take Toll

    Country no longer Africa's petroleum king due to renewed militancy in its oil-producing region

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Shaw from: Mauritius
    June 03, 2014 12:39 PM
    Every country had its own past and history, all of us shall confront and solve all those problemes, escaping can only make others take advantage of its past
    In Response

    by: Show from: Malicious
    June 03, 2014 5:41 PM
    Absolutely true. And the gangsters in the chinese politburo are taking advantage of its heinous past. They must cut and cut cleanly.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahdai
    X
    Lisa Schlein
    May 31, 2016 1:56 PM
    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahda

    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Mobile App Allows Dutch Muslims to Rate their Imams

    If a young Dutch-Moroccan app developer has his way, Muslims in the Netherlands will soon be able to rate their imams online. Mohamed Mouman says imams rarely get feedback from their followers. He believes his app can give prayer leaders a better picture of what's happening in their communities — and can also keep young people from being radicalized. Serginho Roosblad reports from Amsterdam.
    Video

    Video Moscow Condemns NATO Plans to Beef Up Defense in Eastern Europe, Baltics

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday an upcoming "landmark summit" will enhance the alliance's defensive and deterrent presence in eastern Europe and the Baltics. He is visiting Poland ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Zlatica Hoke reports
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video F-35 Fighter Jet Draws Criticisms as Costs Mount

    America’s latest fighter plane, the F-35, has been mired in controversy. Critics cite cost, faulty design, and the attempt to use it to fill multiple roles. Even the pilot’s helmet is controversial. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Concerns Over Civilian Suffering as Iraqi Forces Surround Fallujah

    Thousands of residents are trapped inside the IS-held city ahead of a full scale Iraqi offensive aimed at retaking it.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora