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Journalists blocked while reporting on "jasmine revolution" protests

(IFJ/IFEX) - February 22, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned by reports that police and security agents intervened when journalists attempted to cover protests dubbed the "jasmine revolution" in China on February 20.

Many non-mainland journalists were blocked or harassed when covering the protests in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou on the day.

A Hong Kong journalist told the IFJ he was closely followed by a security officer who prevented him from making contact with a number of dissidents in Guangzhou. The journalist was harassed by the officer when investigating the case of a human rights lawyer, who was injured in a beating by five plain clothes officers after he tried to attend the Guangzhou protest.

"The security officer blocked my path to reach the injured lawyer and tried to snatch my cell phone when I recorded his unpleasant behaviour," said the journalist, who requested anonymity. The officer also damaged the journalist's phone in the incident.

The English service of state-controlled Xinhua News Agency reported on the protest but the stories later disappeared from its website. Xinhua's Chinese service did not report the story at all.

"It's only a show to foreign media - I'm not surprised," a mainland journalist told the IFJ.

"We haven't received any orders from the Central Propaganda Department regarding the 'jasmine revolution' so far but no relevant reports were published in Chinese media - it's because anyone who publishes will be fired right away."

The IFJ's monitoring of China's media in recent years has discovered that the authorities will often order punitive action, such as sacking and demotions, against journalists who are working to freely report the news.

"Protests in three separate locations in China are a matter of legitimate public interest, and we applaud those journalists who bravely attempt to cover these events under intense scrutiny and at risk to their livelihoods," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

"A number of leaders of China's central authorities have publicly affirmed that the public has the right to know about what is happening in their communities.

"Without the right to speak, these affirmations are hollow."

China authorities further restricted online messaging services and articles after the protests were announced on an overseas website on February 19, the day before the protests took place. Relevant information was totally blacked out and the website was attacked fiercely afterwards.

The IFJ urges central authorities to respect the rights of its citizens to enjoy their freedom of expression and freedom of the press, underwritten by Article 35 of China's Constitution.

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