With the Olympics underway, reports are streaming in from China this week of foreign journalists being detained, having photos deleted from their cameras and in at least one case getting roughed up by police while they work.
British TV journalist John Ray told news reporters he was "forcibly restrained" Wednesday by uniformed police officers who stomped on his hands as he and a cameraman tried to film a pro-Tibet protest near the Olympic complex. According to the Agence France-Presse, the officers pressed Ray for his views on Tibet.
"I tried to explain to these people that I was a journalist," Ray, an Independent Television News correspondent, said, "but they dragged me out and slung me in in the back of a police van and held me there for another few minutes." He was eventually released after showing his Olympics credentials.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China, which demanded an apology and an investigation from Chinese authorities, tallies reports of official interference with journalism there. The group also provides information about press rights in China available on its Web site.
So far, according to the FCCC, there have been at least five such incidents since the Olympics began last week.
An Associated Press writer and photographer were repeatedly detained and searched over the weekend as they traveled around the country. Authorities searched their laptop and cameras for photos, some of which were deleted. Then on Monday, police detained British photographer Jack Hill for more than seven hours, according to the FCCC.
Hill was only released when the writer he’d been with, who had Olympics credentials and was not held, pressed a government official about it in a news conference, the FCCC said.
In another instance, a Scandinavian news crew said their interviews with peach farmers were cut short when unnamed officials showed up, apparently intimidating the farmers. Finally, the FCCC said, two Scandinavian reporters said police followed them in an unmarked car as they tried to report a story in Beijing.
Chinese officials have pledged to let foreign journalists work freely in their notoriously guarded country during the Olympics. But that promise showed cracks even before the games began, and as recently as last week. Foreign journalists arrived in Beijing to find certain Web sites — including that of the human rights group Amnesty International — were blocked on their computers.
The authorities loosened some such restrictions in the face of international criticism.
The Reporters Committee and other media groups are together providing a list of law firms that can help journalists in China. For news organizations in the U.S. who have reporters detained overseas, the Reporters Committee is available on our legal hotline — (800) 336-4243 — to offer assistance.