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Three Swiss journalists and Chinese camerawoman detained, released; government press attacks foreign media and RSF as Olympics approach

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns the arrests of three foreign journalists and a Chinese camerawoman on 20 November 2007 in the northeastern province of Hebei and the central province of Hubei. "It is unacceptable that such practices are still taking place in China, despite the new regulations introduced in January for the Olympic Games," RSF said.

Barbara Luthi, the Beijing correspondent of the Swiss television channel Schweizer Fernsehen, and her Chinese camerawoman were detained for seven hours in Shengyou, a village in Hebei province where unrest led to the deaths of six people in 2005. They were manhandled by plain-clothed police pretending to be local residents, and the interviews they had filmed in the village were erased.

"I have been interrogated by the police before, but this was completely different," Luthi told the Foreign Correspondents Club of China. "This is the first time I have been physically attacked," said Luthi, who fell to the ground after being pushed. She and her camerawoman were finally released after the local foreign affairs office intervened.

In a separate incident, Mathias Brascheler and Monika Fisher, a Swiss husband-and-wife team of photographers, were detained for three hours in Wuchang, a village to the south of Wuhan, in Hubei province, where they were doing a report on villagers who had been threatened and beaten in connection with a land dispute. They had been talking to residents, without using equipment, when police forced them to go the police station.

"After two hours, we asked if we could go," Brascheler told the Foreign Correspondents Club of China. "The police chief then seriously threatened to hold us for 12 hours. They wanted to check our IDs. Someone from the foreign affairs office came, said everything was in order and wanted to invite us for lunch to 'clarify' certain points. When we refused, they began checking our videotapes, our equipment and our notes. I said I would call our embassy if they did not release us. They then let us go."

Meanwhile, a Communist Party-controlled newspaper has attacked the foreign media and RSF.

On 22 November, the governmental news agency Xinhua posted an article on its website from "Huanqiu Shibao" (Global Times), a sister publication of the Communist Party's "Remin Ribao" (People's Daily), condemning the "determination of organisations that relay prejudices" against China. Claiming that China is the victim of baseless rumours spread by NGOs such as RSF, it cites recent reports that the Chinese authorities are compiling files on foreign journalists in the approach to the Olympic Games.

One by one, the article takes issues with all the recent reports by foreign newspapers and NGOs about the Olympics. In particular, it denies the story about files being kept on foreign journalists and accuses the "Washington Post", "International Herald Tribune", "Die Welt", Associated Press, Voice of America and other foreign media of "spreading rumours" in an attempt to destabilize the government. An "expert on Sino-German relations," identified as Beixike, is quoted as saying these "inventions" are part of a plan to sabotage the Olympics.

"Chinese journalists, and also Chinese students, are strictly controlled abroad, especially as regards obtaining visas or job interviews," the article says. "Some are even accused by foreign intelligence services of spying, with 'proof' that could well have been fabricated. In fact, it is foreign governments that compile enormous databases. These newspapers publish articles on the basis of very unreliable sources. Is this the press freedom they praise?"

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