China says media must 'cooperate' after rally clampdown

AFP , Tuesday 1 Mar 2011

Several foreign journalists are beaten and harassed in Beijing amid tensions over calls for anti-government demonstrations

China on Tuesday told journalists they must "cooperate" with police and respect the country's laws, after several foreign reporters were roughed up in a crackdown on calls for anti-government protests.

Beijing has launched a massive security clampdown in response to the calls inspired by the "Jasmine revolution" in Tunisia which sparked a wave of unrest against authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.

US and EU diplomats in China as well as media groups have condemned the tough police handling of some journalists on Sunday in a Beijing shopping district where organisers of an online anti-government campaign urged people to gather.

"The police provided reasonable guidance, and the journalists should understand and cooperate," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference.

"If both sides take this attitude, we can minimise the occurrence of such incidents," she said.

"Foreign journalists should respect and abide by China's laws and regulations... Beijing is a very big city with a large population. It is important to maintain normal order," Jiang added.

Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police had blanketed the Wangfujing area in the city centre on Sunday for the second week running, aggressively pushing away foreign reporters with cameras and briefly detaining several.

Bloomberg News said one of its correspondents was kicked and punched by at least five men in plainclothes -- apparently security personnel. He required medical treatment.

A similarly tight security presence was seen at the Shanghai protest site near the city's People's Square. No protests were witnessed in Beijing but several unidentified Chinese were seen taken away in police vans in Shanghai.

Jiang said police "should use the means within their authority" to handle such incidents.

US ambassador Jon Huntsman issued a strong statement about Sunday's events, saying: "This type of harassment and intimidation is unacceptable and deeply disturbing."

Huntsman called on China to "hold the perpetrators accountable for harassing and assaulting innocent individuals" and "respect internationally recognised conventions that guarantee freedom of the press and freedom of expression".

The European Union delegation in China also registered its discontent, as did the foreign correspondents' clubs in China and Hong Kong.

"All journalists, domestic and foreign, should be free to cover news in China without fear of extrajudicial beatings or detention by law enforcement," the Hong Kong group said.

Media watchdog Reporters without Borders condemned the "thuggish attitude" of the police, adding: "The Communist Party needs to understand that free expression is not a crime."

Citizens have been urged to gather for subtle "strolling" demonstrations -- but take no overt protest action -- each Sunday afternoon at designated locations in cities across China to highlight public anger with the government.

The anonymous campaigners behind the so-called "Jasmine rallies" -- a reference to the "Jasmine revolution" in Tunisia -- have said their movement has support in dozens of cities.

Reporters in Beijing have been told they will need to appear in person at least three days in advance to apply to conduct interviews in Wangfujing, the Xidan shopping district and the area near Tiananmen Square.

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