Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned steps taken by Beijing to prevent media coverage of demonstrations and an ongoing crackdown in Tibet and in provinces where Tibetans live. Foreign journalists have been stopped from entering the province and tight censorship has been imposed on the Internet and in the Chinese press.
The authorities have since 12 March refused to grant foreign correspondents permits to enter Tibet and at least 25 journalists, including 15 from Hong Kong, have reportedly been expelled from Tibet or Tibetan areas.
"The freedom of movement for foreign journalists had been one of the few positive developments ahead of the Olympic Games, but this is now being flouted by the Chinese government facing Tibetan protests," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
"Yet again the Chinese government is trampling on the promises it made linked to the Olympics and has preparing the ground to crackdown on the Tibetan revolt in the absence of witnesses."
"Online censorship is also veering into racism, with comment items urging the killing of Tibetan separatists, while all independent news on the events is being censored," the organisation added.
The authorities have refused entry to Tibet to foreign correspondents since 12 March and tourists are also being denied access, for security reasons, according to the authorities. One European correspondent confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that requests for permission to enter Tibet faxed to the Beijing authorities have gone unanswered. Officials responsible for giving permits for Tibet stopped answering phone calls from 14 March.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said at least 25 journalists, 15 of them from Hong Kong, had been expelled from Tibet or Tibetan areas, particularly Xiahe in Gansu province.
Jonathan Watts, correspondent for British daily The Guardian, was today prevented from going through a police check point in this border province. "After checking my passport, the police told me to go back and I had to leave the region. They had obviously expected the arrival of foreign journalists, because one of the policemen spoke English," he said. At least six other foreign media have been forced to leave the regions where many Tibetans live. And Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that foreigners were being refused train and bus tickets in Gansu province or to be allowed to stay in Tongren, in the neighbouring province of Qinghai, where large numbers of Tibetans live.
A few foreign journalists are still inside Tibet but are unable to move around normally because the cities are under police and army control. A reporter with The Economist, who is in the capital, Lhasa, had obtained permission to travel to Tibet before the start of the demonstrations.
The decision of the authorities to close Tibet to the press is in contravention of the rules for foreign media adopted in January 2007, ahead of the Olympic Games. And in an introduction to the "Guide to services for foreign journalists during the Olympic Games in Beijing", the city’s mayor Liu Qi, wrote : "The freedom of foreign journalists to carry out their professional work, will be guaranteed".
Nearly 15 Hong Kong journalists representing at least six media were expelled from Lhasa, accused by the authorities of "illegal reporting". They were then forcibly taken to the airport and put on a flight to Chengdu in Sichuan province. "They were not very polite. They came and looked at our computers, searching for video footage," Dickson Lee, a photographer on the South China Morning Post, told AFP. They had earlier got footage out of Lhasa of the riots which left nearly 80 dead, according to the Tibetan government in exile. The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) has called on the authorities to reconsider the expulsions.
The Chinese authorities also forced most foreign tourists in Tibet to leave the province. Some of them who witnessed the first demonstrations had provided photos and footage of the protests and the crackdown. It is more and more difficult for the foreign press to gather news, particularly about the hunting down of demonstrators because telephone connections have been cut in Tibet. Foreign-based Tibetan websites, particularly phayul.com, have posted a number of accounts and footage of the events, thanks to networks within Tibet.
The video-sharing website Youtube has been censored since 16 March after footage was posted of demonstrations in the streets of Lhasa. The message, "incorrect address" appears when anyone tries to open it. The Youtube videos are also inaccessible from the website Google Video. The BBC, CNN and Yahoo News websites have been regularly inaccessible over the past few days.
Anyone searching for Tibet in Chinese can see videos on YouTube.cn and on others web sites which are hostile to the Tibetans along with insulting remarks about "separatists Tibetans" which are not censored. Chinese video-sharing platforms, the most popular of which are http://www.tudou.com and http://www.56com, have had all news referring to the latest events deleted. On the other hand one can find news websites on which racist comments have been posted about Tibetans, calling for the murder of the "separatists". Reporters Without Borders has been able to confirm that the cyber-censors have not been deleting them, although all messages referring to Tibet are undergoing advance filtering.
Finally, broadcasts within China of international television, CNN and BBC, were cut by the Chinese authorities on several occasions during showing of footage of events in Tibet. While official television has been showing only film of Tibetans attacking Chinese businesses, without referring to Tibetan casualties and the army deployment.
A disastrous state of press freedom in Tibet
Trying to get access to unofficial news is very hard for Tibetans. All media are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party or public bodies. A few underground publications run by Tibetans, particularly monks, are circulated secretly.
Chinese and Tibetan journalists in this Himalayan province are forced to comply with state directives much more than in the rest of China. Only articles on official religious demonstrations are allowed. Party members are to be found in all key posts of the administration and media in Tibet, ensuring there is no chance of any editorial freedom. Articles are submitted to "journalist-censors" before being published.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA), based in the United States, along with Voice of Tibet (VOT), based in India, are the three main radio stations that broadcast programmes to Tibet in the Tibetan language, but these programmes are systematically jammed.
Thanks to their acquisition of ALLISS aerials made by the French company Thalès, the authorities have been able to boost their capacity to jam broadcasts, particularly in Tibet. Radio Free Asia has as a result been forced to use around a score of different frequencies to try to get round this censorship. During an on-the-spot investigation in Tibet in 2006, representatives of Reporters Without Borders found that the Chinese authorities constantly tried to scramble broadcasts using thudding sounds and music. In Lhasa, RFA and VOT programmes in Tibetan were drowned out by broadcasts in Chinese. Many monks do continue to secretly listen to these broadcasts inside their monasteries.
The Chinese authorities are particularly watchful about Internet use in Tibet. Identity cards are systematically checked in Cyber-cafés and several websites and discussion forums were closed in 2007. One instance was the closure in December 2007 of the most popular discussion forums with Tibetan students (http://www.tibet123.com).
大多数在西藏的外国游客都被强行要求离开。作为抗议和镇压的见证人，有一些游客提供了一些照片和录像。外国媒体越来越难搜集到关于西藏的消息，因为那里的通信服务已经中断。建立在外国的一些藏人网站，尤其是phayul.com因为在西藏有联系网络，在他们的网站上发表了很多关于骚乱的图片和录像。此外，Youtube的中文站点因为发表了关于拉萨街头骚乱的视频而于3月16日被屏蔽。访问该站点时屏幕上会出现“地址错误”的提示。现在通过 Google Vidéo 也不能访问到Youtube的视频。而BBC、CNN、雅虎等站点最近几日也一直被屏蔽。