Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on US President George W. Bush to intervene with Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his forthcoming visit to China to try to end the harassment of foreign journalists covering demonstrations by the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong. Seven foreign reporters were arrested in Beijings Tienanmen Square on 14 February while covering the arrest of members of the movement protesting there.
This is an example of the very difficult working conditions for foreign journalists in China, who are subjected daily to intimidation, arrests and surveillance, RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Bush.
The press freedom organisation asked Bush to press the Chinese authorities to respect the right to inform of foreign journalists working in China. We think it is vital that you protest to the Chinese leaders against the use of violence against the professional journalists, mainly Americans, who were covering a peaceful demonstration by members of a spiritual movement harshly repressed by the authorities, Ménard said.
RSF learns that police held at least seven reporters for two hours on 14 February in Peking, intimidating them and confiscating their equipment. As they covered a protest by about 40 Falun Gong members in Tienanmen Square, two Associated Press (AP) reporters, two from Reuters, a photographer from Agence France-Presse (AFP) and a BBC journalist were arrested and taken to the police station nearest the square. Some of the journalists witnessed police violence against the protesters. AFP said police held one woman for several minutes with her face jammed against a chair. A journalist from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who happened to be on the square for non-professional reasons, was also arrested. Public security ministry officials seized camera film and video tapes from the journalists. During their brief detention, a policeman intimidated them several times and stopped them talking to each other.
President Bush is due to arrive in China on 21 February for an official visit, during which he will meet President Jiang Zemin and make a televised address to the Chinese people.
Since the Falun Gong was banned in July 1999, the Chinese authorities have harassed foreign journalists trying to report on the movement. Foreign photographers and cameramen have been prevented from working on and near Tienanmen Square, where hundreds of Falun Gong members have demonstrated over the past few years. RSF estimates that at least 50 foreign journalists have been detained since July 1999, some of them hit by the police. Several Falun Gong members have also been jailed for talking to foreign journalists. One of them, Zhiang Xueling, quoted in articles by Ian Johnson, the Wall Street Journals Beijing correspondent, was arrested on 24 April 2001 and a few weeks later sentenced to three years in a labour camp.
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