Reporters Without Borders urges the Chinese government to rein in the authorities in the central province of Henan, where a reporter for a US national newspaper was arrested and a Belgian TV crew were arrested and beaten in separate incidents in the past five days.
"The regulations that grant foreign journalists freedom of movement and freedom to interview are supposed to apply throughout China," Reporters Without Borders said. "The authorities in Henan clearly have no desire to respect the law. We call for an investigation into these two incidents and for compensation for the Belgian TV reporter whose equipment was damaged or stolen."
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) is aware of 177 cases of foreign journalists being obstructed in the course of their work since the start of the year.
British journalist Peter Ford, the Beijing correspondent of the American Christian Science Monitor daily, and his assistant were covering a prayer meeting at the home of a member of an underground Protestant church in Nanyang, Henan, on 28 November when about 15 police officers accompanied by local representatives of the foreign ministry and Bureau of Religious Affairs burst in.
A dozen members of the church were held for a few hours. The pastor whom Ford had interviewed the day before was arrested and held for a day in a hotel. Ford and his assistant were arrested and questioned for three hours before being taken to an airport and got their flight back to Beijing.
The day before, Belgian reporter Tom Van de Weghe of Flemish public TV station VRT, his Australian cameraman and his Belgian assistant were in Henan province doing a report on AIDS in China when they were attacked and robbed by eight men recruited by the Henan provincial authorities, VRT said.
The eight men intercepted them while they were on their way to a village and demanded that they surrender the videotape of interviews they had already done. The crew handed over videocassettes after being hit. Their assailants also took money, microphones and batteries.
VRT has demanded an apology and compensation. The Belgian government has asked the Chinese authorities for an explanation.