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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Media freedom pledge ignored in China's far west

June 19, 2008

By Ben Blanchard
Guardian (UK)
June 18, 2008

KASHGAR, China (Reuters) - When China applied to host the 2008
Olympic Games, organizers famously pledged complete media freedom, to
the general bemusement of rights groups who regularly berate the
Communist state for locking up reporters.

While the tightly controlled state media have been excluded from that
pledge, restrictions on foreign reporters have been greatly eased in
the run-up to the Beijing Games, which open on August 8. Yet many
problems remain.

Local governments have been happy to welcome foreigners to cover the
Olympic torch relay as it makes its way through China after a less
than successful international leg that was dogged by protests in the
wake of violence in Tibet in March.

Happy, that is, until the torch arrived in the sensitive far western
region of Xinjiang where Beijing accuses ethnic-minority Muslim
Uighur militants of working with al Qaeda to use terrorism to push
for an independent state called East Turkestan.

The local government had originally told visiting foreign reporters
they would be allowed to talk to people lining the streets as the
torch passed through the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, largely
populated by Uighurs.

But the day before the relay, reporters were told they would be
banned from talking to anyone on the route and could only attend
highly choreographed opening and closing ceremonies.

"Don't be angry, we are still giving you reporting freedom," one
official told Reuters.

"It's for your reporting convenience," another added, defending the
restrictions and explaining that it was to make life easier with so
many people expected to turn up.

In the event, ordinary people had been banned from the streets and
only a carefully selected crowd was on show.

On Wednesday, the press pack was corralled into small pen-like areas,
and police and officials patrolled to make sure reporters did not
step outside the boundaries.

Senior government officials who arrived early refused to take
questions from foreign journalists. Some of the students drafted in
to cheer on the torch refused even to look in the direction of the
press gallery, let alone answer questions.

A reporting handbook issued by the Xinjiang government had warned
reporters who tried to cover "sudden incidents" -- government-speak
for protests -- that they would be "subject to site safety management
instructions and told to leave".

The cautious approach was in marked contrast to the torch's passage
through the first ethnic Tibetan region of the relay last week when
reporters were free to talk to spectators along the route.

For this weekend's torch relay leg in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa,
however, authorities are letting in only a small number of foreign
journalists. Overseas media have been all but banned from the city
since the violence there in the spring.

(For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing"
here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)
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