01/02/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Foreign press allowed to interview Bao Tong

Arrested in 1989 for opposing the massacre of Tiananmen Square, this is the first interview he has been allowed to give since 1998. Beijing says it will allow more freedom to the foreign press but dozens of Chinese journalists languish in jail for publishing undesirable news.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Foreign journalists were yesterday allowed to meet Bao Tong, an important political leader arrested after the Tiananmen massacre and one of the most critical of China’s current policies. Bao, 74 years, was one of the top aides of Zhao Ziyang, former head of the Communist Party and the highest ranking official to be arrested in connection with the protests on 4 June 1989. Together with Zhao he had opposed the decision to unleash the army, tanks and all, on protesters. Since then, he has lived under strict round the clock surveillance and he used to be banned from meeting the media.

 

"The fact that I can meet you and you can meet me is an improvement," Bao said. "Even if it is a short-term improvement, it's good. I hope, and many Chinese hope, that the improvement can be long term. It's very good news for all foreign reporters if they can freely report in China."  The journalists were allowed to go to Bao’s apartment only after their identity had been checked by security guards and after his family went out.

 

In view of the upcoming 2008 Olympics, in December, the Foreign Ministry said the central government would allow foreign reporters to travel and report more freely, but only until 17 October, 2008, after the Games end. Similar openings were announced last week for journalists from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.

 

Actually, in 2006, China stepped up censorship of local and foreign media, restricted the freedom of movement of foreign journalists and handed down heavy prison sentences to Chinese reporters. Analysts hope this glimmer of an opening with Bao Tong is the start of a reverse trend, especially bearing in mind that journalists from around the world are expected to descend on the country for the 2008 Olympics. Some media figures said that, also yesterday, permission was not granted for an interview with the lawyer Zheng Enchong in Shanghai because he had “lost his political rights”. The lawyer has been detained since his arrest in July 2006, barely a month after he spent three years in jail for helping a group of people seek compensation for their homes that were seized.

 

In December, Lu Jianhua was condemned to 20 years imprisonment for leaking state secrets, for passing on information to the Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong, who in turn was condemned to five years in August for writing articles containing “burning state secrets”. In China, most information pertaining to the life of the nation is considered to be "state secret" and revealing it through the media is perceived to be and punished as "an attack on state security". According to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, there were at least 31 journalists detained for such a crime in December 2006, more than in any other state, including 19 Internet journalists.

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