'Legal questioning' of journalists defended

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 August, 2010, 12:00am

Guangdong authorities responded yesterday to claims of harassment, insisting their handling of reporters covering a weekend rally in support of the use of Cantonese was 'legal questioning'.

Speaking in Guangzhou at an Asian Games press conference, Guangdong news office chief Li Shoujin said authorities had reiterated that since there was no campaign to marginalise Cantonese and replace it with Putonghua in Guangzhou, mass gatherings to support the use of Cantonese were illegal.

'A hospital employee claimed to be a journalist. We later found out the rest of them were journalists,' he said. 'They were taken away because they didn't have reporters' credentials with them. The questioning was friendly in nature and the journalists were released as soon as possible.'

The comments followed two pro-Cantonese rallies in Guangzhou - one on July 25 involving more than 1,000 young people outside an exit of the Jiangnanxi metro station, and the other on Sunday, when hundreds gathered at People's Park and a shopping area on Beijing Road.

Police took away at least 20 people, including four Hong Kong journalists and a broadcast engineer, at the latter rally. Most of those detained were warned and released. Three are still being detained for disturbing public order.

The rallies were held in response to reports that proposals had been put forward to change television programming during some hours to feature shows in Putonghua rather than Cantonese, especially during the Asian Games in November.

Guangzhou authorities said in a statement that a number of people used the gathering at People's Park to foment public disorder, including blocking traffic. Police closed the park after it had been emptied.

According to city police, one of the three still in detention was a 19-year-old man who had been convicted of robbery in 2007 and sentenced to 21 months' imprisonment. The others were a 42-year-old woman with long history of drug abuse and a 25-year-old man with no criminal record, they said.

After the Sunday rally, Guangzhou authorities launched an internet crackdown, including tightening restrictions on searches to limit the spread of information and pictures of the rallies on microblog portals, and shutting down at least one forum and discussion group.

Critics said Guangzhou authorities had overreacted in their handling of the rally. Others feared the treatment of the protesters by police could backfire and potentially foment social unrest.