BEIJING (AP) — China’s foreign minister said Monday that no foreign reporters were beat by police while covering possible protests called by anonymous Internet postings.
China’s security apparatus has gone on full alert the last three Sundays in response to the protest calls, which have resulted in swarms of uniformed and plainclothes police and journalists converging on the possible rally sites in Beijing and Shanghai but no apparent protests.
On Feb. 27 at least one reporter was attacked by unidentified men while trying to report from a Beijing shopping street, and others had their equipment confiscated and footage erased by police.
“There is no such issue as Chinese police officers beating foreign journalists,” Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said at a news conference during China’s annual legislative session.
Yang said there were no signs of tension in Beijing.
“We don’t want to see anyone make something out of thin air,” he said.
Restrictions on reporting by foreign journalists have been tightened in Beijing, with journalists required to obtain government permission before any newsgathering in the city center. The tightening of policy comes after the Internet calls for popular protests each Sunday similar to those that have toppled authoritarian leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and continue to roil North Africa and the Middle East.
Despite three decades of economic liberalization and the withdrawal of Communist control over many parts of China’s increasingly prosperous and diverse society, the one-party state brooks no challenge to its rule and routinely harasses and imprisons its critics.
On Sunday, no apparent demonstrations occurred in Beijing or Shanghai, though like previous weeks the designated sites drew onlookers and heavy security. In Shanghai, as a cold rain fell, police detained at least 17 foreign reporters for showing up at the protest site, People’s Square, because they did not have prior permission to be there.
Requiring permission marks a rollback of more relaxed regulations governing foreign reporters that were first instituted for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and then made permanent. Those rules dropped an earlier requirement of official permission to report, and instead said reporters only needed the consent of the person they wanted to interview.
In Shanghai, an annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, whose route this coming Saturday would take it close to the area proposed as a site for protests, was canceled. The event usually involves school marching bands and other festivities.
“Due to security and safety issues by the PSB (police) we have had to cancel the parade,” organizers said in a statement. They plan a smaller event involving Irish live music, dance and children’s activities at a downtown commercial center.