China's Capital Tightens Controls on Foreign Journalists

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi answers a reporter's question in Beijing, March 7, 2011

Municipal authorities in Beijing say foreign reporters must seek government permission to conduct interviews in central Beijing,

The policy announcement Sunday by Beijing Foreign Affairs officer Li Honghai comes just days after Chinese officials accused foreign journalists of deliberately inciting unrest by reporting on Internet calls for pro-democracy rallies in Beijing, Shanghai and other key Chinese cities.

Li's announcement makes explicit new restrictions that police began imposing on foreign reporters last week, following online calls for protests at designated locations in both cities. Police in recent days have stopped foreign television crews from filming in the capital because they lacked permission. Many other foreign journalists were warned they will be expelled from the country if they are caught violating the new regulations.

Beijing city officials on Sunday used a news conference to again denounce the mysterious protest appeals, which began appearing on the Internet three weeks ago but have been largely ignored by the Chinese public.

City government spokeswoman Wang Hui described the protest calls as attempts to undermine China's stability.

Last week, at least 16 journalists, including VOA's Beijing bureau chief, were physically harassed by police at an Internet-designated rally point in Beijing. Those targeted February 27 included an American reporter hospitalized after a severe beating witnessed by other reporters.

The journalists had gone to the Wangfujing area of the capital to see if Internet-inspired protests materialized at the site. There were no signs of protesters, as police swarmed the site and pressured reporters.