China Cracks Down On Reporters, Activists The move by the Chinese government comes after anonymous online calls urging people to get out onto the streets to kick-start a Chinese "jasmine revolution" in light of unrest in the Arab World. The protests haven't materialized.
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China Cracks Down On Reporters, Potential Protesters

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China Cracks Down On Reporters, Potential Protesters

China Cracks Down On Reporters, Potential Protesters

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

In China, foreign journalists are being warned they will be expelled if they don't adhere to strict rules on reporting. It's part of a wider response to anonymous online calls aimed at getting activists out into the streets to kick start a Chinese Jasmine Revolution in the spirit of the uprisings in the Middle East. The protests haven't materialized. But as NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Beijing, a preemptive crackdown has.

LOUISA LIM: Strolling has rarely been so politically charged, but only on certain Chinese streets, on Sundays at 2:00 pm. In Beijing, the anonymous online calls picked a busy shopping street, Wangfujing, as the site for protest strolls.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD OF PEOPLE SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

LIM: Last Sunday, police - both uniformed and plainclothes - were out in force on the street, moving people on, as cleaning vehicles hosed the street down continuously.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD OF PEOPLE SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

LIM: Many reporters were blocked from entering, including the BBC's Damian Grammaticas. He describes what happened next.

DAMIAN GRAMMATICAS: And then all of a sudden shortly before 2 o'clock, a group of plainclothes security men with earpieces in grabbed my cameraman, threw him into a police van. They turned round, grabbed me, slammed me against the door of the police van, slammed me on the floor, threw me in and slammed the door on my leg several times.

LIM: Journalists from 16 news organizations were harassed or detained. One American cameraman was badly beaten. Since then, new regulations have appeared, putting particular places off-limits to reporters without permission. Many journalists have been warned their work visas are at risk, if they don't comply. Foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, has hinted official patience is at an end.

JIANG YU: The nature of this issue is that some people are eager for the fray, and they try to create trouble in China. For people with that kind of motive, no law can protect them.

LIM: Human rights groups say at least a hundred Chinese activists have had their movements restricted. This crackdown coincides with the opening of the annual parliamentary session. Wang Songlian from Chinese Human Rights Defenders says it could be opportunistic.

WANG SONGLIAN: The detentions in other periods of time would have created much more attention than now, because now there is all the international attention is moving to the Middle East. So the government feels like it has a free hand to punish these very active people.

LIM: The severity of the response has baffled many observers.

JEFF WASSERSTROM: It seems a public relations disaster that you could have seen coming.

LIM: Jeff Wasserstrom is a professor of Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine.

WASSERSTROM: There has been a kind of schizophrenia in the way the government acts. Half the time it seems to be acting like a self- confident rising power that can be more tolerant of varieties of opinion, but then, occasionally, there is a slide back into a very insecure over-reaction. So this would be an example of it.

LIM: The ripples are spreading ever wider: a St Patrick's Day parade in Shanghai has been cancelled; and the list of banned words grows ever greater.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

LIM: Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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