China to Increase Police Presence in Beijing, Media Crackdown

Dharamshala: The presence of police officers in Beijing is set to be amped up following recent calls to protest in the nation's capital. The communist regime also appears to be rolling back some press freedoms it introduced ahead of the 2008 Olympics, barring foreign journalists from working near a popular Shanghai park and along a major Beijing shopping street after calls for weekly protests in those spots appeared online.

Patrol booths, similar to those the Chinese have erected on every corner in Lhasa, Tibet, will be installed in the city's downtown CBD and major traffic hubs. The booths will be set up by June, and will be equipped with 3G cellular technology enabling them to receive photographs taken from police cars. The new booths are said by a Public Security Bureau spokesman to be an attempt to ensure that "there will always be police patrolling the streets 24 hours a day".

Foreign journalists who tried to take photos or shoot video footage on Beijing's Wangfujing shopping street on Sunday were told they needed special permission to work there, and an AP photographer was told Tuesday that the area near People's Square in Shanghai was also off-limits. The restrictions put the popular leisure spots on par with Tibet as out-of-bounds areas where foreign reporters need special permission to work, and come after attacks and harassment of journalists working in the areas to cover possible Jasmine revolution events.

The tighter restrictions follow anonymous online calls for peaceful protests in 35 Chinese cities, inspired by the demonstrations that have swept the Middle East. The rules go against a pledge made in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics allowing reporters to work freely anywhere in China as long as they had the permission of the interviewee.

However, before and during the Olympics, foreign journalists were blocked from covering potential protests and were forcibly taken away from some areas. Security in the capital is always very tight in early March when the country holds its annual two-week legislative session, and dissidents are routinely put under house arrest or taken in for questioning around this time. The reporting rules conveyed this week, however, are new.

Beijing is now demanding that foreign media "must cooperate with China", and the consequences of not cooperating are being made very clear. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said journalists from 15 news organisations "experienced serious interference" on Sunday near Wangfujing. Journalists from five news organisations reported having their equipment confiscated or reporting material destroyed, the FCCC said in a statement Monday, with one reporter receiving medical treatment after being punched and kicked in the face.

A foreign Ministry spokeswoman cited a breach of 'reporting restrictions' as the reason for what the US ambassador to China has condemned as 'harassment' of foreign media, saying they had been blocking the traffic flow. It is not clear what traffic flow she was referring to, however, as Wangfujing is largely a pedestrian shopping and leisure street. The spokeswoman's refusal to specify which restrictions the reporters had actually breached were unsurprising, as Chinese authorities often make arrests on very ambiguous charges without any requirement to explain.

Also on Sunday, police near Shanghai's People's Square blew shrill whistles nonstop to keep people moving, while street-cleaning trucks in Beijing drove repeatedly up Wangfujing, spraying water to keep crowds pressed to the edges. U.S. and European diplomats and an overseas media rights group have criticized Chinese authorities for the harassment.

Online posts of unknown origin that first circulated on an overseas Chinese news website nearly two weeks ago have called for the Chinese to gather peacefully at sites every Sunday in a show of people power meant to promote fairness and democracy. A renewed call Monday expanded the target cities from 27 to 35. China's extensive Internet filtering and monitoring mean that most Chinese are unaware of the appeals.


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