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Tibet Still Closed to Foreign Press Despite "Unprecedented" Post-quake Openness in Sichuan

June 1, 2008

Reporters Without Borders
May 30, 2008

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the policy of transparency
currently being applied to the foreign press in the areas hit by 12
May's terrible earthquake and calls on the Chinese authorities to
apply the same policy to the Tibetan regions, where the security
forces continue to prevent travel by foreign journalists.

"The government is allowing the foreign media a remarkable and
unprecedented level of freedom in Sichuan," Reporters Without Borders
said. "It should be extended to the Tibetan regions which the
international press has not been able to visit freely since the Lhasa
riots on 14 March. The government is clearly trying to prevent the
foreign media from confirming the few reports emerging about arrests
of Tibetans and reeducation campaigns being carried out since then."

The press freedom organisation has spoken recently to properly
accredited foreign journalists who have been turned back when they
tried to enter Tibetan areas. "I took one of the roads that goes from
Chengdu towards the Tibetan plateau but police at a checkpoint told
me to turn round," said a European reporter who did not want to be named.

The repression in Tibet is still taking place behind closed doors.
The few reports coming out are being disseminated by Tibetan news
media based abroad or by pro-Tibetan organisations. Radio Free Asia
reported on 28 May that a Tibetan, Nyima Drakpa, was arrested in
mid-April in Sichuan province for providing information to
journalists based outside China.

Reporters Without Borders also condemns the harassment of Chinese who
adopt a pro-Tibetan stance. After the sanctions applied to columnist
Chang Ping in early May, two lawyers, Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong,
have just had their licence renewals refused because they signed an
open letter in April calling for detained Tibetans to be given the
legal assistance prescribed by Chinese law.

Tibetan writer and blogger Tsering Woeser has been the target of
threats and hacker attacks because of her articles about the
situation in Tibet. Her blog and Skype (Internet telephone) account
were hacked on 27 May. "My password was changed and I can no longer
connect to my account," she told Reporters Without Borders, referring
to her Skype account. "As far as I can tell, the hacker is already in
communication with some of my contacts, which puts them in a
situation as dangerous as mine."

Woeser, whose books have been banned and who lives in Beijing, has
been placed under house arrest and has been prevented from travelling
abroad. Her husband, fellow writer Wang Lixiong, has also been
harassed by the authorities.

"The Propaganda Department should stop telling the Chinese media what
position they must take on the 12 May earthquake's terrible toll of
nearly 70,000 dead and 18,000 missing," Reporters Without Borders
said. "Chinese journalists should be as free as their foreign
colleagues to write about the angry reactions of the parents of the
thousands of children who were killed when their poorly-built schools

In the first few days after the earthquake, the Foreign
Correspondents Club of China received reports from journalists of
altercations with the security forces.

Finnish journalist Sami Silanpaa, the correspondent of the Helsingin
Sanomat daily, said six foreign journalists were denied access to
Beichuan, a city near the epicentre, two days after the earthquake
although Chinese journalists were allowed into the area on the same
day. Silanpaa was turned back at roadblocks five times in the days
following the quake, including at the entrance to Dujiangyan and Mianyang.

Katri Makkonen, a journalist working for the Finnish TV station YLE,
was briefly detained by the police while trying to get to Beichuan
but was pleasantly surprised by the favourable reception she found at
other checkpoints.

Jonathan Watts, a reporter for the London-based Guardian, was
prevented from working freely in the Pingwu region in mid-may. In
Niufei, he and his photographer were covering the departure of
soldiers for a school buried under rubble when all the material they
had shot and recorded was confiscated. Watts was also prevented by
police from entering a refugee camp in Mianyang, unlike local
journalists, who were allowed in. An Associated Press reporter and
his photographer were briefly detained in Loushui on 15 May after
seeing soldiers dig a mass grave. Officials interceded to obtain their release.

Hundreds of journalists subsequently enjoyed a great deal of freedom
in the field.

The Chinese media, on the other hand, are not free to cover the
protests by the parents of children killed by collapsing schools. The
Propaganda Department is still urging the media to continue to focus
on the efforts and heroism of the Chinese rescue workers, including
the soldiers. Propaganda chief Li Changchun said on 17 May that
"propaganda's ideological front line" must be to deeply and widely
publicise the decisions of the Party central committee and government
on managing the earthquake's aftermath.

The Beijing headquarters of the Propaganda Department (or Publicity
Department, as it is now officially called) initially went so far as
to forbid the national media to send reporters to Sichuan, but a
number of newspapers immediately ignored the order.

The liberal press, including the business magazine Caijin, has
covered the sensitive subjects despite the bans. And some government
media, including the news agency Xinhua and the local television
station Sichuan TV, have carried reports taking a very different line
from the propaganda on the national station CCTV.

Finally, many eye-witness accounts and photos from Sichuan have been
posted on the Internet without being subject to any prior censorship
and there have been comments on online discussion forums about the
corruption and inefficiency of local politicians. On the other hand,
a search of "Sichuan" and "school" on the search engine Baidu yields
no articles about the protests by the parents of victims although
they have been widely reported in the foreign media.
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