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PEN American Center decries thuggery in attacks on foreign press

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - New York City, February 17, 2011 - PEN American Center today denounced a series of brazen attacks on foreign journalists seeking to visit a dissident living under house arrest, calling the attacks "thuggery" and a blatant violation of the international right of all to hear from China's citizens.

In recent days, journalists from media outlets such as "The New York Times", "Le Monde", Radio France Internationale, and CNN have attempted to visit Chen Guangcheng, who served more than four years in prison for his peaceful dissident activities and is now under house arrest in Donshigu village, Shandong Province. Finding the village in a virtual lockdown, all of the journalists were confronted by groups of men who shoved them, confiscated their equipment, and threatened them with rocks and bricks. CNN correspondent Stan Grant reports that some of the men threw rocks at them as he and his crew fled the scene.

None of the "guards" that accosted the foreign journalists presented badges or wore police uniforms.

Chen reported in a video recently smuggled from his home that he was guarded at all times in his home, with local authorities consistently peering inside windows and preventing him from leaving. Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing, were reportedly beaten by police after the video was made public.

"These attacks on foreign reporters suggest a startling indifference to universal norms and troublesome disrespect for the rights of citizens around the world to know what is happening in China, a country that aims to occupy an important place on the global stage," said Larry Siems, director of the Freedom to Write and International programs at PEN American Center. "Since Beijing staged the 2008 Olympics, and especially since former Independent Chinese PEN Center President Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, we've unfortunately witnessed a downward trajectory in the climate for freedom of expression in China. But resorting to physical attacks and intimidation would seem to be a new low. Using violence and threats of violence to filter, censor, and prevent information from being reported violates the rights of all the world's citizens and must end immediately."

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