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China 14 January 2002

Foreign and Chinese journalists banned from investigating the AIDS epidemic in  Henan province

Update : January 14, 2002

On the 14th of January special correspondents of the daily French newspaper Libération, among them the Beijing correspondent, Pierre Haski, reported the conditions under which they covered « the first revolt of Chinese people carrying the HIV virus » in the province of Hénan where thousands of farmers have been infected. The journalists, who had gone to investigate without authorisation in the village of Houyang, (a province of Hénan, south of Beijing) were taken in for questioning by the police who had been informed of their presence. While the journalists were complying with the police and getting into the police car, the farmers tried to stop the car from leaving. The situation soon got out of hand and the farmers took the policemen as well as the journalists as hostages. The journalists managed, however, to escape but were soon recaptured by individuals who first tried to grab hold of their car and then to extort money from them. After having handed over 300 euros in order to be able to leave, the team of correspondents then found themselves under arrest at a police roadblock set up to define the boundaries of the district. They were then taken to the police station in Shanghai were they were questioned for three hours. The journalists from the Liberation were finally set free after having signed a statement admitting that they had no right to be there. The police then ordered them to return to Beijing asserting that all of the villages had been warned and thus pointing out that any attempt to return was futile. When the journalists asked aside to a policeman if they would have been able to get an authorisation to cover the demonstration if they had asked, the policeman replied in the negative adding that it is a "forbidden topic".

With the opening of the first national AIDS conference in Beijing, Reporters Without Borders (RSF - Reporters sans Frontières) addressed a letter to the Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Tang Jiaxuan, to express its concern about the ban on foreign and Chinese journalists from covering the AIDS epidemic in Henan province (centre of China). "It is a shame that the authorities prevent the international media and Chinese reporters from working on an infected blood scandal when the government has officially recognised this drama that has affected thousands of Chinese people", said Robert Ménard, General Secretary of RSF. The organisation asked the minister to grant the accredited journalists authorisations to travel to Henan province.

According to the information gathered by RSF, the foreign media correspondents based in Beijing have been systematically banned by the authorities from going to Henan province where there is an AIDS epidemic. A European reporter who wants to remain anonymous for security reasons told RSF that he had asked for a permit every month since February 2001. The Foreign Affairs Minister consistently refused. According to the rules imposed by Beijing, foreign journalists must ask in advance to leave Beijing. When they are in a province, they are controlled, sometimes very strictly, by the local department of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The news agency Reuters recently gave the testimony of an AIDS infected person from Henan. He confirmed that the authorities do not help victims. He also said that AIDS activists are under pressure and that local journalists are censored when they try to expose this situation. Finally, a group of health workers and journalists in Beijing are trying to support AIDS victims and to spread information about the epidemic in Henan.

In 2001, journalists from BBC, Agence France-Presse, New York Times newspaper and French daily Libération were able to report without authorisation from villages where dozens of people were contaminated in the 1990s by blood donation campaigns organised by the authorities and private firms.

In August two German reporters were arrested for a couple of hours by police in Henan province. Harald Mass, correspondent of the daily Frankfurter Rundschau, and Katharina Hesse, photographer of the weekly Newsweek, were interrogated by policemen because they were found without authorisation near a village where many HIV-infected persons were living.

In the People’s Republic of China, foreign journalists work under very strict control from the authorities. Arrests, threats and shadowing are common for media professionals who want to cover banned issues such as Falungong, democratic movements, catastrophes not covered by official media, organ trafficking and separatist movements like those of the Tibetans, Uyghurs or Mongolians.




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