The Financial Times
By Geoff Dyer in Beijing
Published: February 28 2011 15:25
Last updated: February 28 2011 15:25
Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador to China, personally condemned on Monday the violence used by Chinese security officers against foreign journalists reporting a planned anti-government protest at the weekend.
Mr Huntsman, who is considering a run for the White House in 2012, said that the “harassment and intimidation” that some reporters had received was “unacceptable and deeply disturbing”.
Several foreign journalists were beaten on Sunday as they visited a busy Beijing shopping street, where an anonymous online call had said protesters should congregate. In reality, there were few signs of any demonstrators, but the street was lined with hundreds of uniformed police and plain clothes security officials, some of whom were dressed as street cleaners.
At the time of the planned protest, police evacuated a large area of Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s main shopping streets, locking hundreds of shoppers in the malls that line the street. A new construction project also began at the weekend in front of the McDonald’s restaurant, the site of the planned protest.
According to one European diplomat, nine foreign journalists were beaten or manhandled and 16 were detained by the security services. An American television journalist was kicked and punched in the face and body, diplomats said, suffering a broken rib.
“I call on the Chinese government to hold the perpetrators accountable for harassing and assaulting innocent individuals and ask that they respect the rights of foreign journalists to report in China,” said Mr Huntsman, who met on Monday with several of the reporters detained by police. “I also urge China to respect internationally recognised conventions that guarantee freedom of the press and freedom of expression.”
A former Republican governor of Utah, Mr Huntsman is expected to leave his post in Beijing shortly and has indicated he is considering running for the Republican nomination in the next presidential election.
His intervention in the events surrounding the call for a “Jasmine revolution” in China is likely to prompt criticism from Beijing that the US is trying to use the unrest in the Middle East to sow dissent in China. Privately, Chinese officials criticised Mr Huntsman after he was photographed in Wangfujing at the time of the first planned protest.
Some officials in Beijing have said they believed the award of the Nobel peace prize last year to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was part of a European and American effort to undermine China and amounted to an attempt to revive the Cold War.
The delegation of the European Union also released a statement criticising the violence used against the journalists. “We call upon the Chinese authorities to fully investigate these cases and hold the perpetrators to account under Chinese law,” it said.
A large number of foreign reporters in Beijing and Shanghai have also been called in for meetings with the local police in recent days and some have been warned of likely problems with their visas if they report on the planned protests.
The anonymous internet messages about the protests, which many believe originated outside China, have called on people to gather in 18 cities across the country every Sunday to “stroll” for democracy.