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Two foreign reporters summoned and warned about Tibet stories

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced concern about the action of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in summoning and warning two western journalists about their reporting from Tibet last month, and called on Beijing Olympic Games organiser Liu Qi to clarify the status of Tibet in the new rules for foreign journalists.

"The Beijing games organising committee has just published a very detailed report about all the benefits that foreign journalists will enjoy, so it is shocking to see foreign correspondents being harassed while out reporting and then lectured to when they write stories that displease the authorities," the press freedom organisation said.

"We urge Liu Qi, the head of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games, to come out publicly in favour of journalists being allowed to travel to Tibet and Xinjiang without hindrance, and for this sort of harassment to stop," Reporters Without Borders added.

In his introduction to the "Guide to Services for Foreign Journalists during the Beijing Olympic Games", published on 9 May 2007, Liu writes, "The freedom of foreign journalists in their news coverage will also be ensured." He also says: "In accordance with the regulations, foreign journalists with a valid visa or certificate may travel to places open to foreigners designated by the Chinese government."

Reporters Without Borders regrets that the authorities have confirmed in this guide that the new regulations will cease to apply in October, once the Beijing games are over.

Harald Maass, China correspondent of the German daily "Franfurter Rundschau", and Tim Johnson, China correspondent for the US media group McClatchy, were summoned separately on 15 May by Zhang Lizhong, a division director at the Foreign Ministry's Information Department, for questioning about their trip to Tibet in April.

Zhang warned Maass that his reporting from Tibet was a "mistake" and that this was a serious matter. Accusing Maass of "distorting the facts" and "violating journalistic standards", he asked him to "correct his mistakes." Maass told Reporters Without Borders this was the first in his nine years in China that he had been reprimanded by the Foreign Ministry for his reporting.

Zhang also told Maass that he had the right to travel to Tibet under the new rules for the foreign press, but he still needed to obtain an authorisation from the representatives of the Foreign Ministry (Weiban) in Lhasa.

For his part, Johnson was also told that parts of his articles were "false" and "unacceptable." According to the McClatchy reporter, Zhang said the new regulations did not apply to reporting from Tibet.

When Maass and Johnson arrived in Lhasa, they found themselves being followed and harassed by Chinese plain-clothes policemen. Tibetans they talked to were fined and police prevented Maass from travelling to the city of Shigatse.

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