Thursday, December 04, 2008

China investigates attack on Belgian journalists

BEIJING: IHT - Chinese authorities are investigating allegations by members of a Belgian television crew, who say they were pulled from their vehicle, beaten and had their notes and money taken, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The attack last week came just over a month after China announced that relaxed reporting regulations for foreign media, put in place for the Olympics, would become permanent. Journalists are now supposed to be able to travel and report freely in most areas of China, but certain topics remain sensitive, especially with local officials.

"Eight thugs pulled their van over, reached inside to unlock the doors, dragged the crew on to the road and punched them into submission," according to an account of the attack circulated by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China. It was the second time the crew had been stopped that day, the report said.

Such attacks are often believed to have been carried out on orders from local officials seeking to suppress negative reporting in their areas.

The two-person crew from the Flemish public broadcaster VRT, accompanied by an assistant, was reporting on AIDS victims in central Henan Province for World AIDS Day, which was Monday.

Henan has been highly sensitive to the AIDS issue since the virus that causes the disease spread widely there in the 1990s through unhygienic blood-buying rings, which allegedly operated with official protection. Officials there have been accused in the past of abusing AIDS victims and advocates.

The attack last week has drawn protests from the International Federation of Journalists and from Belgian authorities. The Belgian ambassador to China was scheduled to meet with China's vice minister of Foreign Affairs about the incident Tuesday afternoon, one of the journalists in the attack said.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a regular press briefing Tuesday that he found it hard to understand why the Belgian journalists did not contact the ministry or local police.

"On the one hand, we will be checking with the local authorities to try to find out what happened, but on the other hand we can't go around simply blindly blaming local authorities," Liu Jianchiao, the ministry spokesman, said.

Another official from the Foreign Ministry spokesman's office told The Associated Press that the "relevant department" in Henan was investigating the incident.

However, Tom Van de Weghe, a VRT journalist who was hit hard on the head by one of the assailants, said Tuesday that he was not aware of any investigation.

VRT is asking for compensation for damaged equipment, an apology to the journalists and a guarantee that the journalists will be able to work safely.

The head of the publicity department of the Public Security Bureau in Henan, who like many Chinese bureaucrats would give only his surname, Li, said local officials there were not aware of the case.

China warns France on Tibet

Beijing told President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to call off a planned meeting with the Dalai Lama, saying Tuesday that it was up to Sarkozy to create the right conditions for putting China-EU relations back on track, Reuters reported from Beijing.

The French leader, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of the year, has said he will meet the Dalai Lama in Poland on Saturday.

China pulled out of a long-planned Monday summit meeting with the EU over Sarkozy's scheduled meeting with the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, whom Beijing reviles for demanding a measure of autonomy for his mountain homeland.

There seems little chance that Sarkozy will abandon the meeting. But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman nonetheless insisted, warning that the dispute was undermining broader ties with the EU, China's biggest trade partner.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

No comments: