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2008 Beijing Games 21 August 2008

Internal police documents reveal strategy with foreign journalists

Although Chinese police have attacked or manhandled around 10 foreign journalists since the start of the Beijing games, they were told not to obstruct the international press in directives sent to police stations at the end of July, of which Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy. These directives nonetheless clearly instruct them to investigate the Chinese who talk to the foreign media, and another directive on 7 August (also obtained by Reporters Without Borders) orders them to deal quickly with religious demonstrations.

"The rules for the foreign press adopted in January 2007 were simple and explicit - freedom of movement and freedom to interview," Reporters Without Borders said. "The Chinese police documents obtained by Reporters Without Borders show that the police were indeed ordered to let foreign journalists work, but they were also ordered to investigate the Chinese who told them embarrassing things."

The press freedom organisation added: "The recent arrests of Chinese who wanted to stage demonstrations or express themselves during the Olympic Games were examples of this desire on the part of the authorities to target their own citizens rather than the thousands of foreign journalists."

Reporters Without Borders is releasing three Chinese police documents on official strategy towards the foreign media. While the aim of these documents is to ensure that the thousands of accredited foreign journalists in Beijing are free to conduct interviews, they also ask the police to prevent non-accredited journalists from working and above all to investigate the Chinese who talk to the press. This suggests there could be reprisals after the games, when all the journalists have gone.

Dated 25 July and entitled "Four directives for handling foreign journalists," the first document asks the police not to block their camera lenses (1), not to damage their equipment (2), not to confiscate their memory cards (3) and not to investigate when they are involved in minor offences (4).

Reporters Without Borders knows of several cases in which these directives were clearly violated. Uniformed officers physically prevented Hong Kong journalists from filming a crowd getting out of hand during the sale of tickets for the games on 25 July. Reporter John Ray of Britain’s ITN was arrested by Beijing police officers while covering a demonstration by pro-Tibet activists on 13 August. He was forcibly restrained for 20 minutes although he identified himself as journalist, while his cameraman was prevented from filming the arrest of the protesters.

Police destroyed material and equipment of a photographer with the London-based Guardian newspaper. And in Xinjiang, Associated Press photographers were forced to delete the photos they had taken.

The second document is entitled "Eight directives for not intervening when a foreign journalist is interviewing a Chinese." It tells police not to intervene if the journalist is accredited (1), if the journalist is not accredited but is not asking political questions (2), if the person agrees to be interviewed (3), if the journalist asks about a third country (4), at news conferences given by foreign organisations that have permission (5), if the journalist is asking about sensitive matters but the interviewee is not causing people to gather and disrupt public order (6), if the interviewee talks about subjects such as Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan and Falun Gong or criticises the Party or government but is not behaving outrageously (7), if a journalist photographs or films policemen without disrupting their work (8).

As regards point 7, the directive tells the police to "speak to the interviewee in accordance with Chinese legislation and to follow and monitor the journalist." There have been more than ten cases of Chinese being arrested after trying to alert international public opinion to abuses they have suffered. Two Beijing women in their late 70s were sentenced to a year of reeducation through work on 17 August for asking permission to demonstrate during the games, while Zhang Wei, a former resident of Beijing’s Qianmen district, was arrested on 9 August after complaining to foreign journalists about the way she was rehoused.

Reporters Without Borders has seen that, during protests by Christian or pro-Tibet foreigners in Beijing, the authorities prefer to let police disguised as young patriots or members of civilian surveillance groups intervene rather than directly arrest the demonstrators.

At the same time, the public security department’s campaign to intimidate Beijing human rights activists before the Olympic Games enabled the authorities to sideline these spokesmen for social, religious and political demands. More than 40 of them were put under house arrest, forced to leave Beijing or forced to go into hiding for fear of reprisals.

The third document is an analysis by the Criminal Affairs Bureau of three incidents involving pro-Tibet activists, Christians and a delinquent. Directives tell the police that the priority is to carry out a thorough investigation and avoid bad publicity. The Criminal Affairs Bureau recommends arresting foreign demonstrators and deporting them as quickly as possible. The police are told to do everything possible to "depoliticise" their actions by stressing the public order consequences to the public.

Point 4 of the directives tells the Beijing police to deal with "religious cases as quickly as possible." They are told to "keep the crowd at a distance, devise all sorts of ploys to defuse the situation and immediately inform the Religious Affairs Department."

Read the directives on www.rsf.org

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