The Chinese government has put in place new media restrictions in parts of Beijing and Shanghai, in the wake of recent protest threats that have circulated on the Internet.
The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday asked journalists to “understand and cooperate” with local police, following a massive security deployment in a central Beijing shopping district on Sunday.
The Chinese government cordoned off a popular Beijing shopping area, called Wangfujing, over the weekend, deploying hundreds of police officers after a call for people to assemble for a “strolling” protest circulated on the Internet.
This was despite the fact that the call to protest, the second in recent weeks posted on an obscure United States-based website, failed to receive a response from the Chinese public. No demonstrators gathered either in Beijing or most of the 27 cities where gatherings were scheduled, though a few dozen people reportedly turned up at the protest site in Shanghai.
The lack of a turnout has, however, seemingly failed to ease the concerns of the Chinese government in the wake of the recent unrest in West Asia. In recent days, top officials have stressed the need to address social conflicts promptly and maintain stability.
On Saturday, local authorities in Beijing and Shanghai introduced regulations requiring journalists in both cities to obtain permission from local authorities before entering parts of the cities where protests were scheduled.
On Sunday, dozens of journalists and police — but no protesters — gathered at the scheduled protest site in Wangfujing. Some journalists at the scene were manhandled by groups of men in plainclothes, and detained for a few hours at a local police station.
A cameraman from Bloomberg TV, an American business television channel, was punched in the face and kicked by five men in plainclothes. The assault was not stopped by the large number of police present at the scene.
The attack was condemned by U.S. Ambassador in China Jon Huntsman, who said in a statement it was “deeply disturbing”.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday the incident was being investigated. The police, she said, “properly handled” the events on Sunday.
Foreign journalists “disrupting traffic”
She also blamed foreign journalists for disrupting traffic, and hinted that they were looking to instigate protests. The media, she said, had to follow local laws, as well as “report” rather than “create” news.
”If both sides take this attitude, we can minimise the occurrence of such incidents,” she said.
”The police provided reasonable guidance, and the journalists should understand and cooperate,” Ms. Jiang said.
Journalists from the print media appeared to be allowed to go to the site on Sunday, though several representatives of television channels told The Hindu they were not allowed to film and had their equipment seized.
Two calls for protest, which appeared on the U.S.-based website Boxun, have fizzled out. Another message appeared on the website on Tuesday, calling for a third gathering to take place next Sunday in more than 30 cities.