Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the decision of the Chinese embassy in Ottawa to withdraw visas that had been issued to two Canadian journalists with a Chinese-language TV station so they could cover Prime Minister Paul Martin’s upcoming visit to China. The Chinese authorities have not explained their action.
The Canadian prime minister’s office told New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV) on 12 January that the passports and visas of its two journalists, David Ren and Danielle Zhu, were ready for collection. But Chinese embassy officials came and took back the passports before the journalists could pick them up, and the embassy finally decided they would not be allowed to go to China.
"This ban on their entering Chinese territory is yet another example of the determination of Wen Jiabao’s government to control all the Chinese media, including those based abroad," said Reporters Without Borders.
The organisation added that it has written to the Chinese ambassador to Ottawa, Mei Ping, insisting that Ren and Zhu be allowed to cover Prime Minister Martin’s 20-23 January visit to China, during which he is to meet Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao.
"I came to Canada in search for freedom," Zhu told Agence France-Presse (AFP). "And I now discover that, even with a Canadian passport I’m not enjoying full freedom like I should be... because Chinese power has extended to Canada."
Reporters Without Borders has learned that NTDTV’s president in Canada, Joe Wang, has been in direct contact with Martin’s office since 13 January and has been asking it to put pressure on the Chinese authorities to grant the visas.
Martin said on 14 January it was a "very serious issue" for his government as freedom of expression and press freedom were "part of our values."
The NTDTV network has some 50 stations throughout the world, of which four are in Canada. The authorities in Beijing accuse NTDTV of belonging to the banned Falun Gong religious movement, which they have branded as a "diabolical sect."
Some NTDTV employees are indeed Falun Gong members, but the network offers a wide range of programming including news bulletins with reports that are very different from the propaganda offered by the state television network CCTV.
NTDTV is targeted above all because of its coverage of such sensitive issues as the SARS epidemic and the human rights situation in China as well as the crackdown on Falun Gong members.
China provoked a diplomatic incident last week by preventing South Korean parliamentarians from holding a news conference in Beijing about the situation of North Korean refugees. Some 40 journalists were brutally expelled from the room where the news conference was taking place.
Read the press release.