Thursday, May 7, 2009

Attacks on foreign journalists in China

It’s been almost a year since the earthquake in China that killed up to 90,000 people.

You’ve probably read about parents being harassed or detained for asking questions about the deaths of children in poorly constructed schools; one such advocate was recently arrested for “illegal possession of state secrets,” an espionage charge that all but guarantees conviction and harsh punishment. The Chinese government, after long refusing to account for student deaths in the quake, just announced that 5,335 kids were killed, a figure disputed immediately as being far too low.

But in case you haven’t seen the coverage, it’s worth also looking at how China has been treating foreign journalists who are reporting on this. From today’s report in the New York Times:

Foreign journalists trying to interview parents have been detained and have had equipment broken by security officers in recent weeks, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Beijing, which advocates for greater media freedoms in China.

A reporter for the Financial Times was punched on May 5 by a thug, possibly a security officer in plain clothes, while conducting interviews around Mianzhu. After he and his colleagues retreated to their car, they were surrounded by a dozen hostile men, one of whom tried to punch a Chinese news assistant.

Liu Xiaoying, whose daughter died in the Fuxin school, said a French television crew was detained by security officers and led out of the temporary housing camp where Ms. Liu lives after the officers learned that the crew was interviewing her.

A report in the Financial Times also mentions attacks on a Finnish television crew and a reporter from the Irish Times. A correspondent from the Independent gives a first-person account of his detention.

This isn’t new, of course. China also intimidated and arrested foreign journalists during the Olympics. And don’t forget about Tibet, or the security crackdown over the imminent 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.

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