News / Asia

US Ambassador Decries Chinese Abuse of Journalists

Unidentified men surround a foreign journalist who was pushed to the ground on Wangfujing Street after calls for a anti-government rally in  Beijing, Feb. 27, 2011
Unidentified men surround a foreign journalist who was pushed to the ground on Wangfujing Street after calls for a anti-government rally in Beijing, Feb. 27, 2011

The U.S. ambassador in China lashed out at Beijing Monday, protesting a violent crackdown on foreign journalists covering a thwarted pro-democracy rally in the capital.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman called the detention and beating of the foreign press “unacceptable and deeply disturbing.” He is urging the Chinese government to hold the perpetrators accountable and respect the rights of foreign journalists in the country. Huntsman issued his statement after meeting with journalists roughed up by Chinese secret police the day before.

Reporters from the Voice of America, Bloomberg, the New York Times, the BBC and CNN were among the press who gathered Sunday to observe a so-called “Jasmine Revolution.”

Online activists organizing the rallies are hoping to mimic the unrest that has overturned authoritarian governments in Egypt and Tunisia. But with the heavy police presence, the activists stayed away and the journalists became the news.

US Ambassador Decries Chinese Abuse of Journalists
US Ambassador Decries Chinese Abuse of Journalists

VOA Beijing Bureau Chief Stephanie Ho was temporarily detained in the crackdown, but managed to keep her video of the incident. Here’s her first-person account:

“I was out at Wangfujing Street across from the McDonald’s, which is where the online protest calls were supposed to be set. I was there probably with most of the foreign journalist corps in Beijing and as soon as I got my video camera out, there were guys blocking the lens.

They wouldn’t let me shoot and the street sweepers kept pushing me away. And then it was almost as if on cue, about four or five plainclothes police officers just sort of came out of the crowd, and all of a sudden I didn’t even know what was happening and they were pushing me. They were shoving me and they kind of knocked the camera down and they shoved me en masse inside a little shop.

Police removed five men gathering at a planned protest site in Shanghai.

Watch Stephanie Ho's Report:

A uniformed guy actually came in with us, and he sort of wedged himself between me and the guy who I thought was maybe going to hit me. I just kept hearing him say, 'Don’t hit women, don’t hit women.' I just instinctively knew that I had to get out of there, and so I just pushed everybody and I forced my way outside back to the street. I was grabbed as soon as I got out to the street by three guys and they dragged me away down the alley to the police van.

They drove me to a police station and asked me to sit and wait in an anteroom. I think there was some confusion because I look Chinese, so they thought I was Chinese. Then they saw my I.D. and they said, 'Oh, wait, you’re Voice of America, does that mean you’re American or Chinese?' I think they realized they had brought me to the wrong station, so then after about 15 minutes, they brought me to another place, a sort of makeshift office called the Wangfujing Area Construction and Management Office, which nobody had heard of before.

They said, 'If you’re going to be on Wangfujing Street, you need our permission.' They said I needed permission to interview people, and I told them I wasn’t interviewing people, I just went to see what was going on.

Raw video of police action in China:

I don’t think there were any Chinese journalists there. If they went, they were well undercover. All the foreign journalists I know were called this past weekend and were warned not to go. I was called by someone who said she was a public security authoritiy, and we don’t know from which office. We tried to call the number back, and someone answered the phone and said somebody must have been using the phone to make phone calls. It’s all very vague and amorphous.

"I took part Monday afternoon in a meeting of foreign journalists at the U.S. ambassador’s office with the German ambassador and the European Union ambassador to discuss what happened yesterday. There were European journalists who had problems, and there were American journalists who had problems. This was definitely a stronger show of force than I’ve seen. There was a sense that it was concerted. There was a sense that it was organized.

And so the result is that 16 news agencies reported having problems, nine actually reported physical problems where they were either beaten or push or shoved.  My colleague from Bloomberg was beaten quite badly. They dragged him around, they punched and kicked him. There were a lot of similarities with his experience and what I experienced.

Looking back on it, I’m thinking there might be some logic to the argument that the crackdown was to set an example for foreign journalists that this could happen to you if you come out again next time."

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