Reporters Harassed for Reporting on Lack of Protests
Following a call for continued “Jasmine Revolution” protests over the weekend, the main action appeared to be between foreign journalists and Chinese police, who used heavy-handed tactics to crack down on protests that never happened. Time journalist Austin Ramzy describes what he saw at Wangfujing shopping district of Beijing, a designated protest location:
The street was packed with a police, both in uniform and plainclothes. I overheard a tour guide tell a group of tourists that with so many police there must be someone famous in the area. The journalists strolling past would occasionally nod and chat in small groups, and the police would tell us to move when our groups grew too large. They photographed and filmed us. At least three foreign press photographers were reportedly beaten by plainclothes police in Beijing. (A later report indicated that just one journalist had been beaten after videotaping two others being manhandled.)
At the appointed time, police and journalists watched the street. There was no demonstration that I could see. Shortly thereafter, water trucks rolled into position in front of a KFC restaurant. They then began making passes down the block, spraying water onto the street. The temperature was just above freezing, and no one wanted to get hit. So the crowds cleared out.
Some journalists were harassed by police for reporting on the lack of protests. CNN reports:
We started shooting a short report and within minutes the police descended upon us. My cameraman was led away. My producer, Jo Kent, started filming me with a small camera when a plain clothes policeman batted it out of her hand. He and several other officers started shoving us around. Three bulky men grabbed my petite female producer. Three more nabbed me, holding my arms tight. We offered to walk on our own but the officers pushed, at times lifting us off the ground, before dragging us to a bank branch where police were already detaining other journalists.
The officers took down details of our press credentials and told us we needed a permit to conduct interviews in the area. However, there were no protesters and we weren’t interviewing anyone. As far as we understood the regulations, we weren’t breaking any laws. In an especially bizarre statement, the police denied that anybody had forced us into the bank, claiming that we showed up on our own volition. They returned our camera and we discovered they had deleted our video even though it was just me on the street discussing how there were no protests. When we insisted on being released, one officer said we were free to go at any time – just not until they said so.
After half an hour, we were released. We walked off the premises and I tried to explain on camera what had happened to us. We were again immediately surrounded by police who attempted to put us into an unidentified car which they said was an official vehicle. One of the men took my press card and refused to give it back until I wrested it out of his hands. I demanded that he show me his ID badge and he did eventually – while covering his name with his thumb.
We found out many other journalists were treated the same and, in some cases, much worse.
The Bloomberg journalist was repeatedly punched and kicked by a group of at least five men in plainclothes — apparently security personnel — who also took his video camera and detained him in a nearby store, the news agency said.
He was later taken to a police station by uniformed personnel before being released, it said. His camera was later returned.
Bloomberg did not detail the extent of his injuries, but said he had sought treatment at a local hospital.
And from AP video:
Meanwhile, despite the apparent lack of protest action, organizers continued their calls for citizens to take to the streets. From the Sydney Morning Herald:
The new statement — posted on Facebook, Twitter and other foreign social networking sites officially blocked in China — came one day after security personnel turned out in force to thwart gatherings in Beijing and Shanghai.
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“According to the feedback we received, on Feb 27, 2011, this movement spread to over 100 cities, largely exceeding our initial expectations of 27 cities,” it said, calling for people to “walk” for change again on March 6.
“We send our salutations to all Chinese citizens supporting and participating in this noble movement!”