The Chinese government is threatening foreign correspondents that their visas will be revoked if they continue to try to report on demonstrations held as part of a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution.”
The move is the latest in a series of harsh measures authorities have taken recently, seeking to ensure that popular movements aimed at overthrowing autocratic regimes in the Middle East do not spread to China.
Over the past 10 days, scores of human rights activists and noted lawyers have been detained, disappeared, or put under house arrest, according to reports gathered by Human Rights in China, a New York based watchdog organization. The word “jasmine” has been censored from many websites.
The Chinese government “goes from moments of great confidence to moments when they seem scared of their own shadow,” says Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a historian of China at the University of California. “This seems like one of those ‘what are they thinking?’ moments.”
Dozens of foreign journalists who tried to cover putative demonstrations Sunday in central Beijing and downtown Shanghai have been summoned this week to interviews with the police, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China said Thursday in a warning to members.
The interviews have followed “a common theme” the FCCC said, after gathering multiple accounts. Reporters have been told that they have “broken Chinese regulations, officials know about it, and the journalist will face consequences if he or she does it again. Those consequences include being arrested or detained until the visa or work permit is canceled.”
Such threats appear to mark a significant step back from the liberalized reporting regulations introduced four years ago, which specify that “to interview organizations or individuals in China, foreign journalists need only to obtain their prior consent.”
One foreign TV crew was told by the police that it now required prior official permission to film in any street in China.
Government officials insist that reporting rules have not changed, but journalists in Beijing were beaten up, manhandled, and detained for up to four hours last Sunday merely for being present at the site where Internet messages had suggested demonstrators might gather.
Anonymous activists, broadcasting their message from the “China Jasmine Revolution” website, have called on Chinese to “take a stroll” in city centers across the country on Sunday afternoons. The website is blocked inside China, however, and it is unclear how many people are aware of the calls.
Last Sunday, reporters were unable to identify any protesters among the crowds of uniformed and plain-clothes policemen who harassed them.
In a new statement Tuesday, the protest organizers claimed that “now China’s government clearly shows its horror and fear of the people, as if facing a deadly enemy. A modest amount of people, just by walking, has demonstrated people’s power, and the government’s response has revealed its weakness to the world.”