China warns journalists on 'Jasmine' rallies

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 02 2011 08:13 PM | Updated as of Mar 03 2011 04:13 AM

BEIJING, China - Chinese police warned foreign journalists on Wednesday to obey restrictions on covering rallies called by an online protest campaign or face possible loss of their permission to work in China.

The warning underlined rising official anxiety over the mysterious campaign to stir protests each Sunday, which has sparked a police clampdown on rally sites the past two weeks during which foreign journalists have been roughed up.

Police in Beijing, who have requested meetings with foreign journalists in recent days, called in more than a dozen reporters on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

Police told reporters failure to comply with restrictions on reporting at proposed rally locations could impact future government approval for them to work in the country, journalists said.

Journalists reported the interviews were videotaped.

Beijing launched its security clampdown in response to calls for "Jasmine" rallies in cities across China -- a reference to the "Jasmine revolution" in Tunisia that sparked unrest against authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.

Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police blanketed the Wangfujing district in central Beijing 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 a group of men in plainclothes -- apparently security personnel -- at Wangfujing, one of the designated rally locations.

Citizens have been urged to gather for subtle "strolling" rallies -- but take no overt protest action -- each Sunday afternoon at designated sites to highlight public anger with the government.

Foreign journalists have been given vague instructions on how to obtain permission to report at demonstration sites in Beijing.

They have been told to apply for approval with police, but some have been refused permission even after applying, or told to submit further documentation.

In Shanghai, reporters have been told outright they cannot report in the area near the Peace Cinema -- the city's "Jasmine" site.

Several journalists in Beijing, including AFP correspondents, also have reported attacks on their personal email accounts.

The attacks involved messages surreptitiously sent to people in their address books and others containing suspicious links.

Asked to explain the police actions, a foreign ministry spokeswoman told journalists Tuesday they must "cooperate" with police and follow the rules.

"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," said the spokeswoman, Jiang Yu.

The United States, European Union and media groups have condemned the media curbs.

"We do not think this is acceptable for journalists not to be able to do their work or to be harassed or detained," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

China's government has indicated growing unease over the unrest in the Arab world, heavily censoring or blocking media reports and online discussion of the upheaval, which has toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt.

China faces many of the same problems that were among the factors sparking the Arab unrest, including high inflation, a growing wealth gap, and a lack of democracy.