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ON 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF UPRISING, IFEX MEMBERS ASK CHINA TO FREE REPORTERS

The Chinese authorities celebrated 10 March, the 50th anniversary of Tibet's uprising against Chinese rule, by booting out foreigners, including journalists, from Kangding City, a Tibetan region of Sichuan. The order came after two homemade explosives were thrown at police vehicles in neighbouring Qinghai province.

It is just the latest example of how media access to Tibet and Tibetan areas of China continues to be severely restricted. IFEX members the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Human Rights Watch are calling on China to open Tibet to foreign journalists and release imprisoned Tibetan reporters.

The improved media access allowed in China during the Olympics had no impact in Tibet. Time and again IFEX members reported stories of foreign reporters being denied permission to enter Tibet or only being allowed in on a "supervised" tour, especially following last year's anniversary, when non-violent protests deteriorated into ethnic rioting that was violently suppressed by the police. According to RSF, foreigners have been forbidden all access to Tibet until 1 April.

Tibetans who dare to speak to or assist foreign correspondents also risk being detained and interrogated by the authorities. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China told RSF, "Under these conditions it is extremely difficult to get accurate information, much less an informed overview of what is happening in Tibetan communities."

Those foreign journalists who defy the odds and try to report anyway often find themselves being obstructed and even roughed up. At least 14 foreign journalists have been arrested and in many cases expelled from Tibetan regions in recent weeks, says RSF. For instance, Beniamino Natale of the Italian news agency ANSA was briefly arrested in Qinghai province after visiting a monastery. In another incident, a crew from the Flemish television station VRT was preventing from entering the birthplace of the Dalai Lama in Qinghai.

Information and opinion pertaining to Tibetan independence is vigilantly censored throughout China. In the past few days, the editor of a Tibetan website has been arrested, a Tibetan culture website has been closed and SMS services have been suspended in parts of Sichuan province. International radio stations broadcasting in the Tibetan language continue to be jammed.

The whereabouts of two Tibetan journalists detained in 2008 remain unknown, says CPJ. Police detained Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen one year ago in the days leading up to the anniversary, according to his film company and family members. Public security officials arrested Rangjung, a Seda TV journalist and writer, last September, according to the Indian-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy and Radio Free Asia.

At least seven other Tibetans have been convicted for participating in demonstrations and illegally sending information outside China, reports RSF. They were given jail sentences ranging from eight years to life. One activist, Wangdue, a former political prisoner who had helped spread awareness about HIV in Tibet, was given a life sentence for endangering state security.

"The information lockdown surrounding Tibet is unacceptable," said CPJ. "We saw last year that suppressing reporting about what is happening in Tibet leads only to misunderstanding and the further polarisation of international opinion about the Chinese presence in the region. The onus is on the Chinese government to open the region to foreign reporters."

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/101403/
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/dyoewu
-RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=30510
(11 March 2009)

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