The dangers of speaking out
At the risk of inflaming anti-journalist passions further, I feel today I should return to the question of what we journalists are up to in China.
pretext for this is the fate of a man called Fu Xiancai. He is a
regular activist on the Three Gorges Dam, campaigning for better
compensation for residents who have been forced to move for the dam and the reservoir.
Part of old Fengjie city was torn down to make way for the dam
number are something approaching 1.2 million according to the
government, perhaps between 1.5 and 2 million if you include unofficial
residents like migrant workers, unregistered children etc etc.
work has some validity. Even the government admits there has been
corruption and embezzlement involved in the distribution of resettlement
money, and every now and then a local official has been sent down as an example.
May, according to the German public tv station ARD and Human Rights in
China, he gave an interview for a current affairs programme in which he
discussed the dam. This was, as I have previously described, against the rules but not against
he had been warned before about his activism, and attacked - a broken
leg last year, followed by a few blows to the head.
week, he was summoned to his local police station to be ticked off
about his "oppositionism" and told no good would come of it. On his way
back home, he was whacked from behind, and left unconscious in a ditch.
he is in hospital, paralysed from the waist down, having suffered a
fractured vertebra in his neck. Visitors are not being allowed in to see
him, so the information comes via his family.
is a pretty chilling incident for reporters. We are often intruding
into sensitive areas, and deciding how to treat our interviewees is a
very difficult one. He is not the first to be beaten up for talking to
the press. Others have been jailed, sometimes for substantial terms.
I did some reporting in the Three Gorges about the same issue, I gave
all the people I spoke to pseudonyms, a common enough practice. On the
hand, that's much more difficult for television, which understandably wants the people they speak to to be visible.
any case, many activists want their voices to be heard openly,
sometimes because they are over-brave or even publicity-seekers,
they have a genuine belief that to "go public" is a way of demanding their rights and showing they are not afraid.
In some cases, there is no doubt that bringing activists' name to international attention is the best way of protecting them.
don't think any journalist here is going to stop doing interviews just
because of the threat of violence. We all wonder whether we do enough to
protect our sources, however.
would help if governments were more publicly proactive in this regard -
one hopes that the German embassy and not just the television station is
writing a letter of protest. There are signs that embassies are showing more interest in this area.
I still wonder from time to time whether I should ask the paper for a
couple of months off, just so I can search out the rebels and
and others who have appeared in my stories over the years, and find out what, if anything, has happened to them.
update: The German foreign ministry has indeed now just put out a
statement on the Fu Xiancai case. To quote from the Associated Press:
"We are dealing with a terrible misdeed that cannot remain without
consequences," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said.
said Germany's embassy in Beijing on Wednesday told the Chinese
government that the incident must be investigated and "those
responsible must be found and brought to justice."
officials also called on China to ensure that Fu gets the "necessary
medical care" and stressed that working conditions for foreign
correspondents in Beijing "must be arranged in such a way that proper
work is possible," Jaeger said.
Chinese officials "agreed to examine the incident and report on the result,"he added.Let's hope other embassies and governments follow suit, as appropriate.
Technorati Tags: china, three gorges, politics