After easing restrictions during the 2008 Olympics, Chinese authorities are again clamping down on foreign journalists, barring them from talking to Tibetans and blocking them from hotels, says FRANCE 24's Henry Morton in western China. .
"I’m afraid the police have told us we cannot let you stay in our hotel. You will have to find somewhere else,” we’re told by the assistant manager of one of the larger hotels in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, which borders Tibet.
“The police have put a lot of pressure on us, and you have to leave,” the manager of the hotel clarifies.
Sichuan is home to a large ethnic Tibetan community, and security measures have intensified in the last few weeks, to prevent a repeat of last year’s violence which marked the anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising and subsequent flight into exile in Northern India by the Dalai Lama. This year is the 50th anniversary of that uprising and, not only are authorities determined to see it pass trouble free, they are also determined to make sure that if there is any trouble, foreign media are not able to report it. They have gone to such lengths as to order most hotels in Chengdu not to accept reservations from foreigners - and from our team in particular.
Since arriving in Chengdu on Monday, we have been stopped several times by the authorities, and expressly told not to film or interview any Tibetans. Armed police and roadblocks greet visitors to the Tibetan quarter of the city, which is off-limits to foreigners at night, and checkpoints block passage to Tibetan areas of Sichuan and beyond to Tibet itself. Vehicles entering Chengdu, from elsewhere in the province, are routinely checked for explosives.
“Our chief of security has daily meetings with the police at the moment, and we have to send them details of everyone who checks in,” we’re told by the expat director of a large international chain hotel in Chengdu. “They have also asked me not to leave the hotel at night for safety reasons. It is the first time I have seen these types of precautions here.” And what about journalists coming to the hotel? “If you’re here for tourism, there’s no problem,” he jokes. “You know the police here can listen to your phone calls, read your e-mails and follow you in the street.”
Trying to slip under the net as a journalist in China is virtually impossible. It’s marked on the visa in your passport, and that information is sent to the police whenever you take a flight or check into a hotel. The rules were relaxed with the Olympics, and we are now able to travel around the whole country (with the notable exception of Tibet) and interview people without prior official consent.
However those rules can be reinstated on a whim, it would seem, and a foreign diplomat here tells us that the current security measures could remain in place until June, beyond the first anniversary of the earthquake in Sichuan.
The anniversaries of Tibetan resistance and the earthquake are both potential rallying points for dissent, which Beijing is determined to keep under tight control, as it looks to maintain stability and counter perceived separatist activities.
Date created : 2009-03-12