Jun 19, 2008

East Turkestan: China has Reneged on Media Freedom Pledge

Sample ImageReporters have faced heavy restrictions during the torch relay’s passage through East Turkestan, in direct apposition to China’s pledge of media freedom when it won the Olympic bid.

Below is an article published by Reuters:

When China applied to host the 2008 Olympic Games, organizers famously pledged complete media freedom, to the general bemusement of rights groups who regularly berate the Communist state for locking up reporters.

While the tightly controlled state media have been excluded from that pledge, restrictions on foreign reporters have been greatly eased in the run-up to the Beijing Games, which open on August 8 [2008]. Yet many problems remain.

Local governments have been happy to welcome foreigners to cover the Olympic torch relay as it makes its way through China after a less than successful international leg that was dogged by protests in the wake of violence in Tibet in March [2008].

Happy, that is, until the torch arrived in the sensitive far western region of Xinjiang where Beijing accuses ethnic-minority Muslim Uighur[s]…[of pushing] for an independent state called East Turkestan.

The local government had originally told visiting foreign reporters they would be allowed to talk to people lining the streets as the torch passed through the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, largely populated by Uighurs.

But the day before the relay, reporters were told they would be banned from talking to anyone on the route and could only attend highly choreographed opening and closing ceremonies.

"Don't be angry, we are still giving you reporting freedom," one official told Reuters.

"It's for your reporting convenience," another added, defending the restrictions and explaining that it was to make life easier with so many people expected to turn up.

In the event, ordinary people had been banned from the streets and only a carefully selected crowd was on show.

On Wednesday, the press pack was corralled into small pen-like areas, and police and officials patrolled to make sure reporters did not step outside the boundaries.

Senior government officials who arrived early refused to take questions from foreign journalists. Some of the students drafted in to cheer on the torch refused even to look in the direction of the press gallery, let alone answer questions.

A reporting handbook issued by the Xinjiang government had warned reporters who tried to cover "sudden incidents" -- government-speak for protests -- that they would be "subject to site safety management instructions and told to leave".

The cautious approach was in marked contrast to the torch's passage through the first ethnic Tibetan region of the relay last week when reporters were free to talk to spectators along the route.

For this weekend's torch relay leg in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, however, authorities are letting in only a small number of foreign journalists. Overseas media have been all but banned from the city since the violence there in the spring.