The Chinese security forces cracked down on foreign journalists, driven by mounting nervousness that the "Jasmine revolution" sweeping the Arab world might spread to their country, German media reported.
German weekly Stern reported that its China correspondent Janis Vougioukas was among a dozen foreign journalists detained by police as they visited the "Peace Cinema" square in Shanghai to watch a protest demonstration. "They were taken to a nearby police station, questioned in an underground bunker for three hours and set free after signing an admission that they intentionally violated the Chinese rules for foreign correspondents," the weekly said.
Last Sunday, Chinese authorities arrested Beijing correspondent of German TV network ZDF Johannes Hano and his colleague from the ARD channel Christine Adelhardt as well as their crew and questioned them for several hours after they tried to report about a protest demonstration in a shopping mall in Beijing. They were told by the police that they need special permission to film in certain areas and asked to sign an undertaking that they will comply with the Chinese regulations.
The Chinese leadership is extremely nervous that the popular uprising which swept Tunisian President Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak out of power and currently threatening to oust the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi could spread to their country and therefore the authorities are determined to crush any protests with all means, Vougioukas told the on-line edition of Stern.
Vougioukas said he and his colleagues from several other foreign media organisations went to watch a protest demonstration at the 'Peace Cinema' square, where several hundred people had gathered last Sunday. This time, however, there were only around a hundred demonstrators, but the entire area was cordoned off by several thousand police personnel. "The demonstration was minute, but the police force was huge. I have never witnessed such a massive display of police force," the correspondent said. Chinese police officials had earlier warned the foreign correspondents in Shanghai not to visit the area around the cinema.
The Chinese government's guidelines to the foreign media that such anti-government demonstrations should not be reported applies also to other cities, Vougioukas said.
According to his information, the Chinese authorities even threatened some foreign journalists in Beijing to cancel their accreditation if they violated the rules. The Chinese authorities are determined to "nip in the bud" any anti-government protests, he said.
The Chinese authorities are also extremely nervous because the People's Congress is currently holding its annual meeting in Beijing and they are keen to prevent any event which diverts public attention from the Congress. They have further tightened the regulations for foreign journalists in the wake of a spate of appeals for public protests on the internet.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle deplored the latest detention of a German correspondent in China as "unacceptable" and called upon the Chinese authorities to make sure that foreign journalists can report freely from their country. Reports of renewed detention of foreign media representatives in China, including a German journalist, are "very worrying," the foreign minister said in a statement.
"I appeal once again to the Chinese government to ensure free reporting for German and other foreign media representatives," Westerwelle said. "Continued obstruction of the work of journalists is not acceptable and it will have a negative effect on China's image abroad."