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Foreign correspondents threatened with visa cancellation for "jasmine" protests reports

(IFJ/IFEX) - March 4, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed by reports that police threatened to deny visa extensions to foreign correspondents who continue to report on a "jasmine revolution" protest held in Wangfujing, Beijing on February 27.

The IFJ learned that many foreign journalists, including those who had covered the protest, were asked to appear at the police office in the days following the event. Police officers demanded that the journalists stop reporting on another 'jasmine' protest anticipated for Sunday March 6. If they continued to compile reports, visa extensions might be jeopardised, police said.

"The IFJ strongly believes that there is no provision in the vast array of China's media regulations that journalists should be forced to accept sudden verbal directives," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said. "There is absolutely no regulation that can supersede Article 35 of China's Constitution, which enshrines the rights of citizens to a free press.

"This attitude of the China's authorities towards non-mainland journalists is a backward step since the reforms enacted ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games."

Police requested foreign journalists follow the regulations for foreign media, the BBC Chinese Service reported, and some public areas including Wangfujing in Beijing now required journalists to be registered to prevent traffic congestion, police said.

"It is quite worrying, it's a real roll back on the gains made before the Olympics," said a China-based foreign journalist, who did not want to be named. "If they can do this in Wangfujing then they might do it in other public areas."

Following the threats, the IFJ also learned that some media outlets then attempted to register to film at Wangfujing for the coming Sunday March 6 but they were refused, with the reason given that the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and National People's Congress are to be held at the same time.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China has expressed its concern at the arbitrary interpretation of the reporting regulations. The IFJ calls on Chinese police to pinpoint the exact regulations that foreign journalists are allegedly breaching, and also specify the powers police hold to approve or refuse journalists' working visas.

"We also urge ambassadors of all countries in China to look into the matter and register their disappointment in this arbitrary gesture by China's authorities," White said.

On March 1, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu accused journalists of breaching reporting restrictions put in place by police for Sunday protests in Beijing and Shanghai on February 20 and 27, but refused to specify which regulations had been breached.

Many journalists from non-mainland media outlets including Bloomberg TV, BBC, CNN, Sanli TV, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, German state broadcaster ARD, Hong Kong-based broadcasters including ATV, TVB, Cable TV, RTHK and Taiwan-based broadcaster iSet TV were harassed, assaulted and detained by police and other unidentified people during the protests.

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