Tibet, the journalists point of view
Tough times for foreign reporters in Tibet
Thu Mar 12 03:38PM
Police have patrolled and set up checkpoints along remote mountain roads into the Tibetan region. China's foreign press corp has had a tough week trying to cover one of the world's biggest news stories -- the 50th anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule that led to the Dalai Lama fleeing his homeland.Tibet's spiritual leader said China's 58-year rule of the remote Himalayan region had turned it into "hell on earth". The Chinese government, in turn, described Tibet as "paradise".For the foreign reporters based in China, their job was to try and determine the real situation.
Banned from the Tibet Autonomous Region, they flew to the neighbouring provinces of western China where roughly half of the nation's six million Tibetans live, and a region that foreign reporters are, officially, allowed to visit.What they encountered was an extremely well-orchestrated government effort to stop reporters from speaking to Tibetans freely.Along remote mountain roads and hundreds of kilometres from the nearest big city, police stood at checkpoints in the snow waiting to stop reporters from going any further. They waited at hotels in the smallest of Tibetan towns and lurked around Buddhist monasteries.AFP sent a reporter, photographer and video journalist to Qinghai, one of the provinces that borders Tibet that has many monasteries and where anti-Chinese protests occurred last year on the 49th anniversary of the uprising."This is not an open area," a policeman told them after discovering the journalists had travelled through some of the checkpoints and made it to a monastery. "You have to go."As it was already night and many hours' drive back to the nearest big city, police let the AFP team stay at the tiny town, Lajia.When the journalists walked down to the lobby at 6.30 the next morning, the police were waiting for them to ensure they left immediately. The police followed them for more than half an hour as they drove out of town.A few hours later, police stopped them at another checkpoint and ordered them back to Qinghai's capital, Xining, a couple of hours' drive away where the population is mostly Han Chinese.The next day, two of the journalists were stopped on the road to Rebkong, a Tibetan-populated town with three monasteries and also where anti-Chinese protests erupted last year.Again they were ordered to turn around, after having their photos taken and engaging in a bewildering conversation, similar versions of which were endured by many foreign reporters this week."Is XXX place open to foreign reporters," asks the journalist?
"Yes," replies the policemen.
"Then why are you stopping us from travelling there."
"For public security."
"What do you mean? Is not safe for us to travel there? Is it not safe for others?"
"Yes, of course. There are no problems there."
"Then why not..."
"You can not..."
etc.Other foreign reporters encountered even greater difficulties than AFP, with one describing the security crackdown across the Tibetan plateau as "undeclared martial law".The New York Times' journalists Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield reported being detained for 20 hours in Gansu province, before being ordered onto a plane back to Beijing.France 24 TV correspondent Sebastien Le Belzic had just begun an interview with a Tibetan monk at the interviewee's home in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, when about 15 police entered and stopped proceedings."After two hours, we were allowed leave but we were warned that we couldn't film or interview people," he said.Beniamino Natale, Beijing bureau chief of the Italian news agency ANSA, said he arrived at a monastery in Guinan, a town in Qinghai where monks told him a protest against Chinese rule was held last month. Nine monks were arrested for that protest, they told Natale.However police quickly arrived, causing the fearful monks to withdraw and preventing any further conversation from taking place. The police then took Natale and his Chinese driver to a police station where they were held for three hours, he said.As police "harassed" the frightened driver, three monks from the monastery were seen being brought into custody, Natale said. "The driver was very scared by the ordeal. There is a very heavy security presence now and they clearly do not want journalists there," Natale told AFP.
Many other foreign journalists have reported similar problems, but the government maintains these areas of western China are open for them to visit."The open policy of Tibet has not changed. But whether the local people or local government welcome reporters is up to the local people and government to decide," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters in Beijing. In open areas there is no need for permission but if a journalist travels to a certain place, it is up to the local people to decide whether it is convenient."
In this blog, reporters and editors for global news wire AFP blog about the news they report and the challenges they face covering events from Baghdad to Beijing, the White House to Darfur. Karl Malakunas is AFP's Beijing news editor.
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