Human China seen as reneging on media-freedom vow

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Beijing, July 7 : A 71-page report by Human Rights Watch, which was released on Monday, has indicated that China has expanded the "forbidden zones" - sensitive regions and subjects that are off-limits to foreign journalists - even as it prepares for next month's Olympics.

According to the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, the HRW report claims that China had promised in 2001 that the international media would enjoy "complete freedom to report when they come to China" for the Olympics. Five years later, Beijing announced that foreign journalists could freely conduct interviews with any consenting Chinese citizen on any "political, economic, social and cultural matters" from January 1, 2007 to October 17, 2008.

The HRW says that both of these promises have been repeatedly violated, and media freedom has deteriorated in China since mid-2007.

In the report, it has documented how several foreign journalists have suffered beatings or detention in the past 10 months, while others have been threatened with the loss of their Olympic accreditation because the government disliked their reports.

One reporter was kicked and punched by suspected plainclothes security agents who detained him for two hours when he visited an illegal jail in Beijing where petitioners were detained.

At least 10 foreign correspondents - and some of their family members - were subjected to anonymous death threats from Chinese individuals in phone calls, e-mails and text messages in March and April during the Tibetan unrest.

But despite many complaints from the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, government officials have refused to investigate the death threats, the report says.

It also says the death threats led to the temporary closing of a foreign television news bureau in Beijing and the temporary relocation of the bureau chiefs of two Beijing-based foreign media outlets.

This spring, after the Tibetan protests, the "forbidden zones" were expanded to include several new geographic regions - the ethnically Tibetan districts of Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan and Qinghai provinces. Foreign journalists were kicked out of these regions, or blocked from entering.

After the Sichuan earthquake on May 12, foreign journalists were allowed free access to the quake zone for several weeks. But since June 2, the Foreign Correspondents Club has documented at least nine incidents in which foreign journalists were detained or roughed up by authorities in the earthquake zone.

Another tactic is the detention or intimidation of Chinese sources who speak to foreign journalists. One Chinese person who spoke to a foreign television crew in March was beaten by police so severely that he needed hospital treatment, the report says.

The attacks on Chinese sources have increased during the past year, the report said.

The government sends weekly faxes to Chinese media outlets, announcing the latest restrictions on their coverage, the report says. And at China's state television network, the computer terminals of all journalists are linked to an electronic system that tells them the latest decrees on issues that they are prohibited from covering.

ANI

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