Chinese authorities, increasing what foreign journalists here have called "outright harassment," have barred an American scholar from addressing a group of reporters apparently because of his affiliation with a human-rights group.
The scholar, Orville Schell, is the author of eight books on China and is a vice chairman of the New York-based human-rights group Asia Watch. The group recently issued a harsh report on political prisoners in China. Schell was scheduled to speak about Chinese intellectuals Friday to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Beijing.But repeated threats by Chinese security officials to the management of the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel, where the talk was to be held, prompted the journalists and Schell to cancel, said James McGregor, president of the press organization and Beijing correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
"We were astounded by what happened because this was a foreigner speaking to a group of foreigners in a private room in China, and they forbade this to happen," McGregor said.
McGregor was called in for a meeting with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials the day before the scheduled talk and questioned about Schell's background. "I've never heard of such a thing happening before. We felt we had to go along with canceling it because Public Security officials told the hotel that there would be very severe repercussions to the local staff if this event took place."
The forced cancellation is the latest instance of interference with foreign reporters in China in recent weeks. The journalists' organization protested the activities as "outright harassment" in a letter presented Friday to the Foreign Ministry.
Police surveillance of foreigners, particularly journalists, is a fact of life in China. Telephone conversations are monitored; the special compounds where they are forced to live have video cameras and guards outside each entrance to prevent ordinary Chinese from gaining access. Some journalists are routinely followed by police.
But in the last two weeks, partly because of fear of disturbances on the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Chinese army crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, interference with journalists has increased.
On May 29, China's State Council and the Communist Party Central Committee jointly issued a secret directive to all party and government offices warning them to guard against hostile foreign forces seeking to overthrow the Chinese government, to tighten security on university campuses and to increase control of foreign journalists, according to a Chinese official who was briefed on the directive.