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China Tightens Restrictions on Foreign Journalists

Front of the Great Hall of the People after the opening session of the National People's Congress in Beijing, China, March 5, 2011
Front of the Great Hall of the People after the opening session of the National People's Congress in Beijing, China, March 5, 2011

Chinese authorities are tightening controls on foreign journalists, following the third week of calls for protests to show solidarity with the Jasmine Revolutions in the Middle East. Although there was no apparent demonstration last week, foreign journalists at the scene were harassed.

Tight security in Beijing is a regular feature of the annual legislative session of the National People’s Congress.

The situation this year has been made more complicated by online calls for Chinese citizens to protest injustice at home and to show solidarity with the so-called "Jasmine Revolutions" sweeping the Middle East.

Sunday was to have been the third consecutive week that anonymous organizers called for Chinese to come out to designated demonstration sites in cities around the country. But there have been no immediate reports of any major incidents.

Last week, Chinese policemen and foreign journalists outnumbered obvious protesters at the designated Beijing site, Wangfujing Street. There was no apparent protest, yet unidentified men beat or physically harassed foreign journalists at the scene.

This Sunday, Chinese authorities tried to prevent a repeat of those incidents by persuading foreign journalists not to go there. Many reporters were warned they would be expelled from the country if they were caught breaking the law.

The Beijing city government called a news conference Sunday afternoon, at exactly the same time as the would-be demonstration.

Beijing officials echoed central government authorities, in denying that there are changes to formal State Council rules governing journalist activities.

But Li Honghai, with the Beijing Foreign Affairs office, said a booklet distributed at the briefing shows how the city’s laws, in his words, "build on" the State Council’s laws.

Li says Beijing’s policy is that foreign correspondents who want to do reporting in downtown Beijing need to first apply to city authorities for permission.

Authorities did not grant permission to any foreign news organization for any reporting from Wangfujing this Sunday.

Beijing’s spokeswoman, Wang Hui, says stability is the paramount concern. She also responded to questions about the beating of an American journalist last Sunday.

Wang says the incident was reported to the police, who are treating the issue with what she described as "full seriousness" and are conducting an investigation.

At the same time, she did not address a question about how this kind of violence could have happened in broad daylight, in a public place in downtown Beijing, with so many policemen around.