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Authorities obstruct foreign journalists, step up controls and propaganda in Tibet

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the methods being used by the Chinese authorities to obstruct foreign journalists trying to cover the situation in the Tibetan regions, and calls for the immediate and unconditional return of the foreign press to Tibet and to nearby provinces with a sizable Tibetan population.

At the same time, the jamming of international radio stations has been stepped up in Tibet and Internet café owners are being forced to increase the surveillance of clients, while government propaganda continues to rage at the "Dalai Lama's clique" and foreign news media.

"The Chinese authorities are in the process of dealing with the problem of Tibetan demonstrations by means of force and silence," Reporters Without Borders said. "After ridding Tibet and the neighbouring regions of undesirable observers - foreign journalists and tourists - the security forces are crushing the protests without the international community being able to watch."

The press freedom organisation added: "For the repression in Tibet to end, the United Nations must demand the return of foreign journalists and the dispatch of independent observers."

Reporters Without Borders has recorded more than 40 serious violations of the rights of foreign journalists since 10 March 2008. They have been prevented from working freely in the cities of Lhasa, Beijing, Chengdu and Xining, as well as in other places in the provinces of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai.

One of the cases cited by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China is that of a Finnish TV crew that was arrested on 17 March in Xiahe (in Gansu province), where there had been Tibetan demonstrations against the Chinese government. The TV crew was threatened and its video recordings were confiscated despite its protests. "You don't want to know what will happen if you don't show us the footage," one of the policemen told reporter Katri Makkonen.

Police forced journalists working for British television channel ITV to leave Xiahe the previous day after stopping them and taking a note of their names several times. They were also filmed by plain-clothes police. ITV correspondent John Ray said their Chinese driver was "terrified" when the police took down the details of his driver's licence and vehicle licence number.

Police in Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan province) prevented journalists working for US television network ABC from filming in a Tibetan district on 16 March. The police told them to keep moving and made them leave in a taxi.

Correspondent Louisa Lim of US National Public Radio was turned back at several police checkpoints as she tried to travel to Xiahe. She was then followed for about 300 km by an unmarked police car until she arrived at an airport. At least two French reporters suffered the same fate in this region adjoining Tibet. Several reporters and photographers working for the Associated Press news agency were also prevented from working freely.

Spence Palermo, a US documentary filmmaker, was sequestered in his hotel room in Xiahe on 14 March to prevent him from seeing Tibetan protests. In an account he gave to CNN, he said several hundred soldiers were sent to Labrang monastery, where he had just spent several days. BBC reporters were denied access to the village of Taktser in Qinghai province, where the Dalai Lama comes from. The village is surrounded by police.

Journalists were also prevented from freely covering a small demonstration held in Beijing University on 17 March by Tibetan students, who lit candles. Dozens of the demonstrators were arrested.

In Tibet, Internet café owners have been ordered to prevent all "state secrets," including photos and videos, from being sent abroad. At the same time, the telephone service is still subject to extensive disruptions. Despite the blackout, some pictures of the recent protests continue to circulate and Reporters Without Borders was able to obtain footage of Tibetans who were shot dead in Lhasa and Amdo.

The Tibetan press is relaying violent statements by officials, including comments on 20 March by Zhang Qingli, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Tibet, talking of a "death struggle with the Dalai clique" and describing the Dalai Lama as "a wolf wrapped in a habit." Raidi, another Tibetan Communist Party leader, described the foreign press coverage as "outrageous and ill-motivated."

While state-owned Lhasa TV broadcast footage of the "agitators" behind the protests, the official Xinhua news agency reported that more than 100 demonstrators, described as rioters, had surrendered to the authorities. A Shanghai journalist told Reporters Without Borders that the Chinese media have been told by the Propaganda Department to use only Xinhua's reports about the situation in Tibet.

Jamming of international radio stations has increased since the start of the protests. The director of Voice of Tibet, which is based in India, told Reporters Without Borders that the Chinese authorities have stepped up their use of small jamming stations located near cities to prevent the population from hearing its programmes.

As Reporters Without Borders noted in Tibet in 2006, the authorities broadcast Chinese-language programmes and low-pitched noises, such as drumming and aeroplane noises, on the same frequencies as the Tibetan stations based abroad. Voice of Tibet has increased its daily broadcasts by two hours.

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